Writers: Roger Bohbot and Michael Collins
Director: Erick Zonca
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Saul Rubinek, Kate del Castillo, Aidan Gould
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
In the world of bad decisions, I wonder what the percentage is between those that are just plain bad and those that are made because you’re broke, desperate, or drunk (or all three) and the decision seems wise given your state of mind. I mean yeah, we all just plain screw up or make a bad call or pursue an idea that’s just flat out wrong, but the human ability to fuck up big-time quadruples when you’re broke, drunk, and/or desperate. You’ve got nothing to lose so you just let it fly and before you know it, you’re in deeper dutch than you were in before. Such is one of the many premises embedded in one of the best “lost gem” movies I’ve seen in a while, JULIA. How this movie snuck by nearly everyone only to land on DVD (and it’s streaming on Netflix as well, so get to it!) seems crazy to me. This is an outstanding character-driven thriller that’s sure to please any suspense minded film fan.
Tilda Swinton stars as the titular character and it’s an amazing performance. She plays a full-blown alcoholic who accepts zero responsibility for her actions and always looks to blame someone else. She’s also a raging slut who’s come to the end of the line in terms of relationships, job prospects, and money. Yet she makes no attempt to better her personal situation and worse, she just continues on her path of self destruction right on down to the bar and into the bed of whoever wants some. But one day she meets Elena (del Castillo), an equally messed up individual who is at least in alcohol recovery. Elena has seemingly pulled her life together and to complete this transformation, she wants her son Tom (Gould) back from his wealthy grandfather who refuses to let Elena even see him.
Elena unravels a well laid plan of how Tom can be kidnapped and returned to her if only she can find someone to help her. In exchange for helping with the kidnapping, the helper can keep the ransom money and Elena will get her son and take him to Mexico where they’ll live happily ever after. Julia thinks it over and sure enough given her dreadful situation, it seems like a good idea. Here’s a little hint; it’s not a good idea. At all. JULIA reminded me of a mix between LEAVING LAS VEGAS and Stanley Kubrick’s THE KILLING, but it also has its own thing going on as well.
Rather than just settling in to become a kind of simple yet suspenseful caper film (which it is as well), JULIA slowly evolves into a character study as Julia tries to keep this insane plan going when all odds are stacked against her. Not only is she hobbled by her own demons and shortcomings, she’s pursued by Tom’s wealthy grandfather and his henchmen as well as the police. But once in motion this kidnapping is all she has and there’s no looking back. She keeps on moving, all the while forging a strange mother-son relationship with Tom. This is where the film really becomes something special through some terrific acting, writing, and direction. Will Julia succeed with all odds against her? What does succeeding even mean to someone with nothing left to lose? All these questions and more are posed here and they tie in with a balls-out amazing performance by Tilda Swinton to make JULIA a great piece of filmmaking hamstrung by what are surely some bad distribution choices.
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