As shamelessly biased as I am towards the monumental abilities of our transcendent goddess of cinephilia that is La Tilda of Swinton, I was still a little in awe of her raw, not to mention brave, performance as Julia. She is utterly convincing as, let's be honest here, a quite a repulsive woman. Someone who, at the very least, is profoundly flawed - a self-centred alcoholic lush who cares about no-one and wears her propensity towards self-destruction on her sleeve. Who then goes one step further towards obliterating any last vestiges of sympathy she may have elicited from the people around her and us, the audience, by doing the unthinkable - kidnapping a child for ransom.
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.