cast: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen
If you wonder why Martin Scorsese (delving into Tim Burton territory) chose to direct a “children’s story” of a young orphan living inside of – and surreptitiously working the clocks of – a tower in a Paris train station… just wait for the second half: when the somewhat slow-paced but beautifully shot contained journey turns into a whimsical celebration of one of the greatest innovators of cinema. But that’s another story – making this feel like two tales in one. The first has our young hero, straight out of a Dickens novel, named Hugo Cabret with only the memories of his deceased father, who left behind an automaton robot that needs a heart-shaped key to make it run: perhaps providing a message from beyond. Enter the granddaughter of an old and bitter toy dealer; she has the key needed – but leading to this point is a somewhat thin story stretched out too long. On the peripheral, and making up the comedy, action, and suspense is the station inspector played by Sacha Baron Cohen, doing a somewhat tongue-in-cheek nod to clumsy silent film antagonists. With a Doberman at his side, the lone keystone cop strives to catch the young tinkerer: whose only goal is to get that automaton working. Then the second half – after a crucial discovery – is where Scorsese’s true aim lies. But with the built-up mystery gone, the youthful awe is only partially replaced by a cinematic history lesson more dreamlike than fact based, although the nostalgic aura can be infectious. The young star Asa Butterfield, with sad eyes and a curiously insightful expression, while looking the part makes for a somewhat bland title character. But it’s Chloë Grace Moretz, as his lovely young sidekick, that not only brightens the film with her tremendous acting but whose bookworm dreamer yearns for adventure more than Scorsese's film delivers it. Yet despite the flaws, there's enough residual magic for (creative) kids and (patient) adults to enjoy.