At once exhilarating and graceful, Martin Scorsese's masterful "Hugo" takes one by surprise - and aback - despite its maker's credentials.
The skill on display in this so-called "family film" is underlined by the audacious camerawork of Scorsese's new house cinematographer, the great Robert Richardson who, starting with the film's initial sequence, pulls us in, embracing us and whirling us along. It's a dizzying, delerious journey (which helps the modern 3-D process realize its potential), seen from a child's point of view but not necessarily a journey for children.
"Hugo" may have a young protagonist, embodied by the excellent Asa Butterfield as a kid who lives within the innards of the complicated clockworks of a Parisian train station, but its soul is old.
No, this is not a "family film" (unless it's a family of particularly sophisticated children). Scorsese uses little Hugo, the hero of Brian Selznick's source book, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” as an excuse to conjur up a lovelorn, movie-fed daydream about the humble beginnings of film via the revolutionary vision of Georges Méliès (played here with an aching sadness by Ben Kingsley).
A film that does not condescend or compromise, "Hugo" remains faithful to its own vision - one that's quiet but intense. Blessed with a remarkable ingénue performance by the preternaturally gifted Chloë Grace Moretz and an atypically dimensional one by Sacha Baron Cohen, "Hugo" looms as a touchstone of films in the new millenium.
Note in Passing: Scorsese quotes other films and filmmakers here, but unobrustively. I was particularly taken by the scenes in which young Hugo views the conversations shared by the characters played by Frances de la Tour and Richard Griffiths from a distance - in his clocktower. Like James Stewart spying on his neighbors in Hitchcock's "Rear Window," Hugo hears only heavily gestured mumbles, muttering and half-sentences.