Dir. Erick Zonca, France/USA/ Mexico/ Belgium, 2008, 144 mins
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Saul Rubinek, Aidan Gould
Review by Carol Allen
This is primarily a tour de force performance from Swinton in the title role. Julia is not an admirable character. At 40 years old, she is not only an alcoholic but selfish, a liar and a user. We never get to know if she is that way because she is an alcoholic and if she became an alcoholic, because she is that sort of person, though she blames her bad luck on her belief that life has dealt her a losing hand. But despite all this, Swinton gets us to empathise with her and is constantly interesting.
The story, which reveals Julia to us, is through her chance encounter with a Mexican woman, Elena (Kate Del Castillo), who bribes her to kidnap her young son (Gould), who has been taken away from her. Although Julia succeeds in snatching the boy, it’s an act which takes them on a dangerous journey, involving an encounter with some very scary Mexican hoods and pushes them both to the limit. The film sometimes amusingly makes the point that an alcoholic is not the best person to commission for a kidnapping job!
One of the many admirable qualities of Swinton as an actress is her total lack of vanity. She will do and look whatever/however is right for the role. In this for example we see her looking very glamorous in the opening shots, where she’s in a bar on the lookout for whoever will buy her a drink, and totally rough the morning after. She spends the entire film tottering through her adventures in totally unsuitable and uncomfortable killer heels and her constant boozing throughout, particularly when she’s in charge of a child, is very disturbing. The core of the film is the relationship between her and Tom, the little boy. It’s certainly not a motherly one ― the sight of her pointing a gun at a child is shocking ― but despite herself she develops a protective attitude towards him and him to her, which is both odd and touching. Aidan Gould as Tom is very good. In the early scenes, where he is naked apart from the bathing suit he is wearing when kidnapped, he is a touchingly vulnerable, frightened child though later he shows himself to be a boy of strong spirit. The scenes between them are very good.
The other characters are very much on the sidelines. Del Castillo with her expressive face makes a strong impression, though one is left wondering what happens to Elena, who disappears from the story. Rubeck is also strong within the limits of his role as Julia’s “tough love” supportive, former alcoholic friend. The film takes many unexpected turns ― you’re never sure where it’s going ― but it could have done with some trimming in the middle and is a bit overlong for what it has to say. It is, though, well worth seeing for Swinton alone and the resolution of the story, when we get to it, is totally gripping.