As filmmakers grow older, it is almost inevitable that certain corners of the movie-going universe (read: the Internet) will begin hurling criticisms at them for being past their prime. That’s just how it is. If there is one thing people at keyboards love more than outright hating something, it’s deciding that something or someone that was once good has now begun to stink.
This has happened to many great filmmakers, but the most recent addition to this collection has unfortunately been Martin Scorsese. It happened quickly. After justifiably winning the Oscar for “The Departed” in 2006, his next film “Shutter Island” was met with mixed reviews, and now his new movie “Hugo,” out this week, has angered some simply because it is a family film. This is the guy famous for making profane and violent mobster films, and now he’s telling the story of an orphaned boy who goes on a magical adventure in Paris. Clearly his career has derailed, right?
Well, no. In fact, Scorsese in his older age is doing something that more filmmakers should do in the later years of their career: he is expanding his craft and trying different things. Yes, all his best films have been hard-R journeys into the psyches of disturbed men and gangsters (mostly played by Robert DeNiro) but now he’s taking all his experience and applying it to something new. If this inappropriately virulent reaction by some proves anything, it’s that people hate change. Instead of growing as an artist, some would prefer that Scorsese was releasing “Goodfellas 2: Gooderfellas” this week instead of “Hugo.”
Yet what makes great artists is the desire to use their talents in a variety of different areas, and the same proves true with great directors. The best filmmakers want to make a great film in every genre, but most will never get the chance. Scorsese has that chance, and it’s incredibly thrilling that he’s taking the opportunity to do so. Last year’s “Shutter Island” was his crack at a horror film, and now he’s making a kid’s film. More power to him.
Some may claim that by simply trying new things, he is no longer making movies that are personal to him. This is a criticism that first arose when “Shutter Island” came out, as many misjudged that film as just a stupid thriller. It certainly isn’t the brightest bulb on the tree, but it’s still pretty great, and it’s also a kind of movie that he has a great deal of affection for.
The same goes for “Hugo.” It may seem like a dumb kiddie adventure, but Scorsese has never been a director that accepted material he didn’t care about. At this point, it certainly isn’t a stretch to say that Scorsese is a man who should have earned the trust of the moviegoers everywhere. He made “Mean Streets,” “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “Goodfellas,” “The Aviator” and “The Departed.” If ever there was a resume that justified a lifetime pass, it is this one.