Director Martin Scorsese and his production staff have created a marvelous milieu that both partakes of a realistic post-WWI Paris and edges it with a fantastic luminosity. The realization of the city, ranging from the skylines to the period and subject appropriate posters in the movie house lobby, is just splendid.
Asa Butterfield, already a veteran film actor, plays the title role of Hugo Cabret, an orphaned boy who is living a troglodytic life in the interstices of one of Paris' great railway terminals, maintaining its many clocks. He's very good as the abandoned, obsessed boy seeking to work out the only legacy left to him by his father.
His obsession entangles him with "Papa Georges," (Ben Kingsley)the bitter old man that runs the station's toy and candy concession, and Georges' foster daughter, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), a girl who lives in (and talks like) books, but longs for real life adventure.
It's a hard life for kids in 1920's Paris: initially, every adult encountered seems bitter, angry, and suspicious, reflecting the deep physical and spiritual injuries inflicted by the Great War. And "Papa Georges" is not one of those crusty old men with a marshmallow center, either. He doesn't magically warm up to Hugo upon getting to know him. There's a lot of work involved on the part of all the characters to get things to work out, and that's all to the good for the film's sake.
I don't want to give away more of the plot, here. It's a wonderful, sentimental, beautiful movie. That the plot relies on some unlikely coincidences and contrivances really doesn't matter. Butterfield, Kingsley, and Moretz are all very fine, as is Sacha Baron Cohen in a restrained performance as the film's "heavy", the Javert-like railway policeman. When you see distinguished actors like Christopher Lee, Richard Griffiths,and Jude Law in relatively minor roles, you know that this unlikely book has bee treated as a prestige project, and it shows in the production, in the script, and in everything that matters.
As usual for us, we did NOT see the 3-D version, but I can see that it would be a pretty good subject for 3-D in a comparatively restrained treatment.
Highly recommended! Suitable for children of an age to understand a fairly literate script. No sex, bad language, or blood, but there are some scary scenes involving fires, crowds, and trains.
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