Tilda Swinton (best actress, Evening Standard British Film Award) gives another extraordinary performance—possibly her most brilliant one—as a beleaguered middle-aged alcoholic in Los Angeles who kidnaps an 11-year-old boy, Tom, in order to extort money from Tom’s dying rich grandfather in Julia, a co-production from France, the U.S., Mexico and Belgium directed by Erick Zonca. Julia is a crackerjack yarn; a bond grows between Tom and his kidnapper, a surrogate for whose Mexican mother the latter slowly becomes. Along with this, the film grows increasingly absorbing and suspenseful, becomes terrifying in fact when across the border Tom is kidnapped from his kidnapper by thugs out for blood—people, that is, as desperate as Julia, who plunges herself into a foreign underworld to try to rescue the boy, lying every which way in an effort to succeed. One of her lies gets a man shot to death; add this soul to the one Julia herself has shot to death. Thus is Julia able to confront the insanity of her own adventure in kidnapping and extortion.
Style and plot combine elements from John Cassavetes’ The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) and Gloria (1980); however, the complex socioeconomic relationship between Mexican and U.S. poverty gives Zonca’s film its own reality. Above everything else is Swinton’s richly detailed contribution. Chain-smoking, guzzling vodka, playing people, resisting as long as she can to give herself and her behavior a good long look, Julia is “a character” whose humanity will likely remain invisible to us so long as it remains invisible to her. The two-hour-plus length of the film is necessary for Zonca and Swinton to chart the gradual process by which Julia’s humanity enters the visible realm.
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