Review: Julia (2009)



Erick Zonca
Roger Bohbot, Michael Collins, Aude Py, Erick Zonca
144 min.
Tilda Switnon, Saul Rubinek, Kate del Castillo, Aidan Gould, Jude Ciccolella, Bruno Bichir, Horacio Garcia Rojas, Mauricio Moreno
MPAA Rating
R for pervasive language, some violent content and brief nudity.

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Julia is a sophisticated, messy performance vehicle for Tilda Swinton to stretch her acting muscles. If it doesn’t completely work, it’s certainly not Swinton’s fault.

The story revolves around an alcoholic: Julia (Swinton). She barely knows what day of the week it is and because of her aggressiveness, her ex-husband (Saul Rubinek) has frequently bailed her out of trouble. This time, however, she may have gotten herself too far over her head.

One of her AA meeting associates, Elena (Kate del Castillo), has a serious problem. Her drug lord ex has denied her custody of her young son and she desperately needs help getting him back. After a night of drunken debauchery, she begs Julia for assistance and promises plenty of money as a reward.

Her agreement to assist is based on an ulterior motive: to kidnap the kid for real and squeeze the wealthy father for as much as she can. However, as these features always proceed, many setbacks stand in the way between Julia and her treasure…and it may just be herself that she discovers buried within.

Swinton is a powerhouse actress. She has the capability of not only donning an American accent, but doing so and delivering dynamic, rich characters filled with nuance and power. That she occasionally lets her native London accent creep into her dialogue is an important trifle when she presents us with such a strong and complex character.

It is her shoulders that the film’s entire success is based. Although the script can be applauded for its distinctive approach to the genre, there is no denying that this film is a one-woman tour de force. Most of her co-stars all wilt in her presence, which is perhaps not what most actors should do, but when you’re stuck with the likes of Saul Rubinek, it’s very hard to bolster something more complex from them. Though, I must give credit to Aidan Gould who plays Elena’s son Tom. His scenes with Swinton could have resulted in a diminished presence, but he manages to keep up quite well, but ultimately fails to convince us his character has more depth than as an agent of change in Julia’s life.

Most films dealing with drug issues, kidnapping and ransom are performed from the villains perspective. Seldom does a narrative explore the reality of the opposite. Although Julia is far from a saintly character, she is still a positive, heroic concept representing the mother in everyone. Her character has no children, but as she gets to know this fragile kid at her duct tape mercy, she comes to understand just how much she has been missing in her life. It’s a sobering experience and its this through-arc that really sells the story to the audience and is the reason Swinton is so effective at acting as the buoy.

I could have done without several scenes in Julia, including many of the combative situations with the father’s drug associates in Mexico and the moments shared between Swinton and Rubinek, but most of them still manage to provide an environment of growth for the Julia. And, as this is a single-character-driven story, that’s about as much as we can expect.

Whether this would be an ideal film to share with your mother for Mother’s Day or not, I would suggest not. It’s not exactly a film that paints a rosy portrait of a loving mother. However, if your mother loves good movies or you are such a mother, this could be the kind of movie that exercises her philosophical muscles. Yet, the ones who would benefit most from seeing this are the ones who are struggling with drug addictions or alcoholism who could use a strongly-worded statement to show them just how serious and dangerous their problems can or could be.
Review Written
April 29, 2010
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