Julia

Like John Cassavetes’ Gloria, Erick Zonca’s Julia is an uncompromising character study of a tough-as-nails lady who wants to protect a boy from an unforgiving world full of people who want nothing more than to exploit him. The difference between the two films is that where she was a cop before, now she’s a self-destructive alcoholic. We meet Julia...read more

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Reviewed by Perry Seibert
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Like John Cassavetes’ Gloria, Erick Zonca’s Julia is an uncompromising character study of a tough-as-nails lady who wants to protect a boy from an unforgiving world full of people who want nothing more than to exploit him. The difference between the two films is that where she was a cop before, now she’s a self-destructive alcoholic.

We meet Julia (Tilda Swinton) at a party where she knocks back drink after drink with the gusto of a frat boy, and flirts with almost any man that comes into her path -- something she does with such ease that it’s obvious she’s spent many nights doing this. After waking up half-dressed the next morning, in a car next to a man she met that night, she arrives late for her job, which she promptly loses. Her AA sponsor, Mitch (Saul Rubinek), tries to sweet-talk the boss into letting her keep her job, but when his efforts fail he gives her some tough love -- threatening to stop talking to Julia if she doesn’t get her act together. This does nothing to persuade her, but the pleadings of Elena, one of her fellow twelve-steppers, does penetrate her self-destructive shell. It turns out the high-strung Elena wants to kidnap her son from her ex, who plans to send the boy to live with grandparents, and asks for Julia’s help. Although Julia eventually agrees, her plan all along is to double-cross Elena and ransom the boy back to the wealthy grandfather. Of course, being a severe alcoholic, it’s no surprise that her plan quickly spirals out of control, and Julia finds herself in Mexico dealing with yet another set of kidnappers, as well as realizing that this frightened boy might be the first person other than herself that she’s cared about in a very long time.

Considering Tilda Swinton’s distinctive appearance -- her strikingly pale complexion, red hair, and her precise enunciation -- it’s all the more remarkable that she’s become one of the most versatile actresses around. But -- coming on the heels of her Oscar-winning turn as a bloodless corporate PR executive in Michael Clayton, her frightening portrayal of the White Witch in the first Narnia film, and her embodiment of repressed yearning as Benjamin Button’s first lover -- her work here hammers home the breadth of her range. Zonca’s movie runs a little long, clocking in at two hours and 20 minutes, but he gets away with it in large part because he relies so heavily on his leading lady. Swinton is in just about every scene of the movie, and her behavior manages to be thoroughly unpredictable yet still plausible -- she seems like a real person teetering on the edge of losing it altogether, but still capable of being the kind of bad-ass that’s able to stare down hardened criminals. It’s a riveting portrayal that helps keep us involved in the film’s twin interests: Julia’s psychology, and the complicated jumble of disloyalty, double-crosses, and hidden motivations that drive the kidnapping story. Like Cassavetes’ Gloria, Julia might not be a great crime movie, but as a look inside the mind of a deeply complicated character, it never fails to fascinate.

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  • Released: 2008
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Like John Cassavetes’ Gloria, Erick Zonca’s Julia is an uncompromising character study of a tough-as-nails lady who wants to protect a boy from an unforgiving world full of people who want nothing more than to exploit him. The difference between the two fi… (more)

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