Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Movie Review: Across The Universe (2007)


A jukebox musical drama and romance featuring the music of The Beatles, Across The Universe is a multifaceted but simple story inspired by the 1960s and the majesty of timeless songs.

It's the 1960s, and in Liverpool aspiring artist Jude (Jim Sturgess) leaves his shipyard job and girlfriend behind and heads to the United States for a life adventure. At the Princeton University campus, he meets free-spirited student Max (Joe Anderson), then finds his father, a World War Two veteran who abandoned Jude's mother when she was pregnant. Jude becomes friends with Max and also meets his more grounded sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). She has a boyfriend who has already been drafted into the army.

Max quits college and with Jude they relocate to New York's Greenwich Village, where they meet aspiring singer Sadie (Dana Fuchs) and guitarist Jo-Jo (Martin Luther McCoy), who fled a Detroit beset by race riots. They are soon joined by Lucy, as well as Prudence (T.V. Carpio), a young woman from Ohio. Jude and Lucy start an intense romance, while Max receives his draft papers conscripting him into the army. Lucy joins an anti-war activist group led by Paco (Logan Marshall-Green), and eventually her idealistic dedication to peace protests strains the relationship with Jude.

An experimental fantasy anchored to the music and events of the 1960s, Across The Universe is reasonably successful in casting a unique spell. Director Julie Taymor and screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais squeeze in more than 30 Beatles tunes into 133 minutes of running time. Helped by key characters carrying names straight from The Beatles' songs (Jude, Prudence, Lucy, Jo-Jo, Max), the songs are performed by the cast members and often seamlessly weave into the film.

The movie is an undoubted salute to the eternal genius of the band and a reminder of their catalogue depth. But bloat does creep in, and a more disciplined edit would have resulted in a sharper end product.

Taymor ties the music to often fantastical imagery, allowing the film to work as a feast for the eyes as well as the ears. The visuals are hit and miss, a combination of alluring, perplexing and trippy. For better or for worse, Across The Universe often evokes the 1960s as imagined through the prism of substance-enhanced nostalgia.

Within the swirling artsiness it's remarkable the film contains as much plot and history as it does, and these elements not only work but provide necessary cohesion. Social turmoil, protests, riots, hippie-inspired attitudes towards love and a burgeoning peace movement grappling with tactics are all here under the ever-present spectre of a worsening Vietnam War. The cultural references are enhanced by Sadie and Jo-Jo channeling Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix respectively.

The story of Jude's father is a reminder these are the children of the World War Two generation, while the scenes back in Liverpool create a grim port city with a future fading into nondescript and depressing narrow alleyways. Jim Sturgess and Evan Rachel Wood delve into their roles as star-crossed lovers with appropriate solemnity, the cast playing it straight to provide necessary ballast.

A rich multi-sensory experience, Across The Universe is courageous artistry on film.






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