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  Across the Universe

Starring: Jim Sturgess, Evan Rachel Wood, Joe Anderson, Dana Fuchs

Directed by: Julie Taymor

Produced by: Matt Gross, Suzanne Todd, Jennifer Todd

Written by: Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais

Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing


     Across the Universe bears all of the qualities that I look for in a great motion picture: it is consistently innovative, original, and mesmerizing. Due to some obvious flaws, the film is a far cry from a masterpiece but, at the same time, it’s more exciting and stimulating than most masterpieces usually are. With Across the Universe, director Julie Taymor has made a work that is entirely her own and, for this, she deserves endless showers of praise. This is the type of work that does a lot of good for the medium of film as a whole: as viewers watch it, it will have them feeling as though they’re experiencing something magical for the first time. At a point in cinema history when most positive experiences at The Movies are characterized by enjoying well-done but entirely ordinary films, the stunningly original Across the Universe is worthy of my highest recommendation.

     The premise of the film is simple, but invites a seemingly endless supply of imagination on the parts of the cast and crew. Using renditions of the songs of the Beatles as a staple for her story, Taymor brings to her memories of the anti-Vietnam movement in the late 1960s to life through an intimate circle of characters. As the film opens, we meet Jude (Jim Sturgess), a young man living in Liverpool who decides to travel to America to find his long-lost and unknowing father, a former soldier who experienced a short-lived romance with Jude’s mother when he was stationed in England during World War II. Jude disappointingly finds his Old Man working as a janitor at Princeton University. Somewhat discouraged his father’s inherent indifference to him, Jude looks for excitement when he meets wacky and out-of-place Princeton student Max (Joe Anderson). Max invites Jude to his home for Thanksgiving dinner, where he breaks the tough news to his accomplished father that he will be dropping out of the university. Free at last, Max and Jude head for Greenwich Village, where they find themselves happily living in a dump of an apartment with what soon becomes a slew of other liberated-spirits.

     Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), Max’s younger sister, soon joins the two rebels in New York after graduating high-school in the midst of mourning the death of her boyfriend, who was killed in combat in the Vietnam War. Lucy is originally indifferent to the psychedelic atmosphere that she finds herself in but, after a chain of unexpected events, ends up embracing the setting as a form of inner-healing. The hippie-movement is all that Lucy has to seek solace in when she is left shaken when Max, no longer enrolled in college, is drafted for the War Effort. Almost equally surprising is the newfound love she develops for Jude, which evolves into an enduring romance that spans the length of the remainder of the film.

     The plot of the picture itself is rather conventional, but this only contributes to its brilliance. Taymor recognizes the fact that all stories have been told before and, instead of hopelessly trying to make this basic aspect of Across the Universe more original, she focuses on creating a visually and thematically dynamic experience. Although the film is often tonally meandering, its constantly high level of creativity renders it always-entertaining.

     Only about thirty minutes of Across the Universe’s two-hour-plus duration consists of dialogue; the rest is told through Beatles musical numbers. A few of these sequences miss the mark (“I Wanna Hold Your Hand", “Let it Be”), but the majority of them are on right target. Most of the songs are highly involving, and some of them (“I’ve Just Seen a Face”, “I Want You So Bad”, “I Am the Walrus”, “Revolution”) are unbelievably powerful. All of the music is performed wonderfully by the cast, and the precise choreography and colorful set-design accompanying them are jaw-droppingly beautiful.

     It is rumored that, after Taymor screened Across the Universe for Sir Paul McCartney himself and asked him if he liked it, he turned to her and replied “What’s not to love [about the film]?” That’s a good way to summate the sheer ecstasy that the movie captures; despite its occasional choppiness and whatever its flaws, its lively spirit and eye-popping visuals make it impossible to berate. There are so many beautiful sequences on display in the picture that it would be fruitless of me to admiringly single out each one that I appreciated in this review. Across the Universe is a work to be experienced; it’s flowing, inspired, and incessantly absorbing.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 9.22.2007

Screened on: 9.20.2007 at The Landmark in West Los Angeles, CA.


Across the Universe is rated PG-13 and runs 131 minutes.

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