Tilda Swinton really "knocks it out of the park" here as the tragic Julia.
I wish I could say that alcoholism was her only problem, but by the end of this film I was convinced that her "issues" ran much deeper and that and that the booze was just her way of "self medicating".
In any case it is a highly engaging look at what desperate people will do to avoid (the sometimes brutal reality of) life.
It does (at times) feel a bit over the top, but when you consider the fact that there are actually people out there living life in this manner...
I kept reminding myself that,what is "crazy" to us is simply someone elses reality.
This little gem of a film works because it's performance driven. Tilda Swinton and Kate del Castillo shine. Not since The Lost Weekend have I felt this much empathy for such self destructive characters. A memorable, memorable motion picture.
If that isn't bad enough, the rough treatment she metes out on the boy verges on cruelty and spite and her carelessness with him is unflinching (locking him in the boot of her car till he shits himself, screaming obscenities at him while waving a gun in his face, gagging him and leaving him tied to the radiator of the motel room, abandoning him in the Mexican desert at night). It's deeply upsetting to watch and you wonder how you can engage with this mascara smeared devil. And yet, yes, we are still rooting for her?? Highsmith fans will be smacking their chops with relish.
It's not until the last 40 minutes or so, when the mother instinct breaks through the seemingly hard-as-nails but still very brittle exterior, that her humanity and compassion spills out at last. (It's been an emotional slog getting there so our relief is palpable). As she awakes (from a night of filth with her Mexican trick) and her poor wretched captive tyke is lead in to her, bathed in the warm orange and yellow glows of a South American sunrise, the dispossessed lush and motherless son seem to bond. It's a profoundly moving scene (reminding me a little of the restorative feel that the later scenes in 'Irreversible' invoked) and just about stops you wanting to kick Julia into submission. Can Julia redeem herself? Unfortunately for them, it may be too late for redemption as events take a terrible turn and spiral even further out of Julia's control. Will anyone get out of this one alive?
The ending is frustratingly abrupt but also kind of perfect - I'd love to know how things panned out. But whatever happens next is a whole different story of course and nothing is better than imagination for filling in the gaps.
I'm not necessarily sure I'd call this character complex, but she is bizarre, and most importantly she is completely believable. Well, "believable"; it's horrifying to think that any human would sink to the depths that Julia does, and yet that's exactly what we watch her do, for two and a half hours. Swinton perfectly embodies this alcoholic floozy, and though I'd never really call her sympathetic, she's always interesting, which is never a bad thing in a movie. Julia is a film that's constantly changing its face, and Swinton is its anchor. You could call it a thriller, crime drama, or character portrait, and in its slight longwindedness it's all of these things, but as a whole it floats above conventional genre labels. It's really a highwire act, a personification of a woman living on the edge of her seat, and a challenging project for any viewer who's willing to learn about a generally unlikable but enthralling character.
[font=Century Gothic]Tilda Swinton is an extraordinary actress with a regal presence in all of the films she does but with "Julia," a riveting if overlong character study, she turns it up a notch by fully inhabiting a character that is one step above the gutter and so self-centered that she cannot see the harm she is doing to herself or others for that matter. Telling the story entirely from Julia's point of view is a bit tricky because it obscures the fact that maybe she is the real villain of the piece. It is amazing that Julia has gotten this far without getting AIDS, killing somebody in a car accident or any other form of rock bottom that would make her rethink her life which might be impossible since she is living entirely in the present. Julia has trust issues but they come from her trusting too easily. Her basic survival possibly comes down to pure luck but how long can that last?[/font]