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Tilda Swinton Brilliant in Erick Zonca's Thriller

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating



Tilda Swinton in 'Julia'

Magnolia Pictures
Julia, starring Tilda Swinton in a shatteringly convincing performance, is a non-stop, disturbing, exhilarating, all-engrossing experience. Erick Zonca's film -- ten years after his lyrical and altogether different Dream Life of Angels (1998) -- is an unlikely thriller, and a terrifyingly good one at that. In the title role, Swinton's portrayal of an alcoholic who has gone long past rock bottom is often exceedingly difficult to watch, yet she's also impossible to look away from.
And that's before she kidnaps the kid.

In the opening scenes, Zonca and Swinton swiftly establish: Julia is a lousy drunk, garishly dressed, and ready to sleep with anyone and everyone -- be it some creep from a local bar or her well intentioned but infatuated friend Mitch (Saul Rubinek), who bails her out of frequent jams. Julia is not a character you'd expect from this particular actress: the trashy, unsympathetic broad has no resemblance to the educated English thespian with her refined accent and porcelain good looks. The words that come out of Julia's mouth are crass and ugly.

During Julia's one lame attempt at AA, she meets Elena (Kate del Castillo), a deranged woman who convinces Julia to kidnap her eight-year-old son (Adrian Gould) from the boy's wealthy grandfather. Now here's a thought: committing a kidnapping while drunk is not the smartest thing.

Tilda Swinton in 'Julia.'

Magnolia Pictures
Another observation: being a woman doesn't necessarily make you into a kinder, more compassionate kidnapper. This becomes alarmingly clear after Julia stuffs the crying boy into the trunk of her car, where she ties him, naked except for a skimpy Speedo bathing suit, to the motel radiator.

Julia is not a good woman, but for 138 minutes, she's all that we've got. Swinton is in every scene of Julia, and therefore, the defacto hero. It happens almost imperceptibly: all loathing and disgust for Julia slowly fades as she earns our sympathy. A hell of a lot is at stake in Julia. The boy's life, certainly, and he's a good kid. You want no harm to come to him. It's terrifying to watch Julia's unwitting abuse of the boy. It's hard not to imagine his future trauma, if he comes out of this ordeal alive.

Zonca's film is as good as it is because Julia is never one hundred percent contemptible. The relationship that develops between the seemingly out of control kidnapper and the sometimes self-righteous kidnappee becomes more and more twisted and, therefore, fascinating. The two share one shockingly lovely moment together in a seedy bedroom at the Mexican border. Zonca's Julia is a difficult movie to stomach, but entirely worth the emotional unrest it puts you through.

Julia (2009)

Starring: Tilda Swinton, Saul Rubinek, Kate Del Castillo, Aidan Gould, Bruno Bichir
Directed by: Erick Zonca
Produced by: Francois Marquis, Bertrand Faivre, Allen Bain
Running Time: 2 hrs. 24 min.
Release Date: May 8 th, 2009
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, some violent content and brief nudity.
Distributors: Magnolia Pictures
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