Julia Harris (Tilda Swinton) is an alcoholic who spends her nights partying at bars and nightclubs, only to wake up in bed next to strange men in the morning. She has very little self respect, and early in the film she loses her job. Her only friend Mitch (Saul Rubinek) is an ex-alcoholic who helps her out financially, but threatens to cut her off after she is fired, unless she goes to AA meetings to get help for her drinking problem. It is at one of these meetings where she meets Elena, an unstable woman who asks Julia for help in a scheme to kidnap her 11-year-old son Tom (Aidan Gould), who was taken away from her to live with his wealthy grandfather.
In return for her help, Elena tells Julia that she can pay her $50,000, which she claims is a portion of a large inheritance she has received. After much contemplation, Julia decides that the money outweighs any consequence, but of course the half-baked plan goes from the start, and Julia ends up on the run in Mexico with Tom tied up in her trunk, and a gun that she struggles to figure out how to load.
At one point in the film, Mitch confronts Julia about her choice to go along with Elenaâ(TM)s plot to get her son back. He says, âWe all knew that Elenaâ(TM)s stupid, insane story about getting her kid back was bullshit, we heard it over and over again at meetings. Why is it that you were the only one that believed her?â? Julia is not a stupid woman, but a desperate one who gets in over her head. We do not like Julia, we do not sympathize with her, and we want her to pay the price for what she has done. But there are times when we somehow want her to get through this ordeal in one piece, and of course, we hope see poor Tom returned safely to his grandfather.
This is the first work I have seen by French filmmaker Erick Zonka, and it wonâ(TM)t be the last. His direction is sharp and revealing, as he stages some astonishing scenes of tension, urgency and realism. The script by Zonka and Aude Py is incredibly sincere, the cinematography by Yorick Le Saux is superb, and the U.S. and Mexico locations give the whole experience the stark authenticity that is requires. It is hard not to believe everything that happens to Julia in the film, as it all seems so inevitable based on the choices she makes. That is great screenwriting, and why Swinton likely decided to take on such a challenging and bitter role. There is an interesting story going on in âJulia,â? and the central character is caught in a web of debt and self-deceit, which she turns outward at the chance to get some money and to turn her luck and her life around.
Taking on this complex character, Swinton is a force beyond all categories. Aside from much of her earlier work, I have seen most of the films she has doneâ"I still need to find the time to watch âI Am Loveâ? and âBroken Flowersâ?â"and she has never once done something that is any less than interesting. This may be her finest performance yet, from what I have seen, and that is saying a lot. Consider her Oscar winning work in âMichael Clayton,â? her hilarious performance in âBurn After Readingâ? and her scene-stealing work in both âThe Curious Case of Benjamin Buttonâ? and the action-horror movie âConstantine.â? Connecting the dots, I think that we can expect more great things from Swinton.
Why this stunning, pulse-pounding film did not garner more attention when it was released in 2008 puzzles me, but should anyone feel uncertain about its accessibility, rest assured that âJuliaâ? is as approachable as any great mainstream thriller in recent years, and on top of that, it stars Tilda Swinton. You just canâ(TM)t go wrong.