Set in America during the Vietnam War, Across the Universe is a powerful love story set against a backdrop of political and social unrest. It's a story of soul-searching, self-doubt, and individual powerlessness cleverly conveyed through a multitude of Beatles songs. Like young adults all across America during the 1960's, Jude (Jim Sturgess), Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), Max (Joe Anderson), Sadie (Dana Fuchs), Prudence (T.V. Carpio), and JoJo (Martin Luther) are in turmoil over the war; questioning their individual roles in the war effort and struggling to find a way to hold true to their beliefs while making a difference in the world. While love proves a powerful uniting force, its limitations become clear as relationships are strained and broken over individual perceptions of responsibility to cause and country. A fairly bizarre juxtaposition of extremely stylized, almost hallucinogenic scenes of swirling colours and reflections, highly choreographed dance segments, seemingly commonplace character interaction, and emotionally packed close-up footage of characters lost in contemplative song, this film imparts a good sense of the confusion and passion of the time and is at once powerful, invigorating, and disturbing. The film runs a bit long at 2 hours 11 minutes and several segments drag noticeably, thanks to some incredibly slow song tempos. Warning: this production may change how you think about a favourite Beatles song forever. --Tami Horiuchi
The Beatles' songs may have provided the soundtrack for the lives of those coming of age in the 1960s, but their extensive catalogue acts as the literal soundtrack in this romantic musical from visionary director Julie Taymor. Newcomer Jim Sturgess stars as Jude, a young man working on the docks in Liverpool. Eager to escape, he travels to Princeton where he meets Max (Joe Anderson). But it's his meeting with Max's younger sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) that changes him. They quickly fall in love, but their relationship is tested by the chaos of the late 1960s and Max's unwilling tour in Vietnam. Throughout the film, characters burst into classics from The Beatles: students sing 'With a Little Help from My Friends', while Uncle Sam bursts from a recruitment poster with strains of 'I Want You (She's So Heavy)'. U2's Bono makes a cameo as a counterculture leader and croons 'I Am the Walrus', and Eddie Izzard provides a trippy rendition of 'Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite'.
Sturgess puts in a charming and earnest performance as Jude and is certainly capable of carrying the film. Wood capably balances Lucy's naivete and knowledge, easily moving between her love for Jude and her passion for her cause. Though the performances are strong, it's Taymor's gifted direction that makes Across the Universe
so fascinating to watch. As in Frida
and Broadway's The Lion King
, she proves herself an artist with creativity few can match. Director of photography Bruno Delbonnel also deserves praise for his contribution to the striking visuals. He has worked with Jean-Pierre Jeunet on Amelie
and A Very Long Engagement
, and he brings the same sense of romance and whimsy to this unique musical.