Thursday, 14 January 2010

Julia (2008)

Tilda Swinton, even when multi-award winning, is something of an acquired taste. I can not deny that she is an accomplished actress, and she is generally fine when part of an ensemble cast. However, this is not the first movie in which she has taken the lead role and in which she is on screen non-stop -- which for nearly two and a half hours is rather excessive. It is certainly a strange and potentially non-commercial choice of lead for the first English-language film from French director Erick Zonca, who has not released any movies since 1999's "The Little Thief" and 1998's much-praised "The Dream Life of Angels".

Swinton plays an American feckless alcoholic living a precarious existence in small-town California. She dresses trampily, can not hold a job, and her existence seems to be a non-ending round of one-night stands. The occasional gratuitous nudity throughout is also something of a distraction. Her only friend is recovering alcoholic, rotund Saul Rubinek, who may or may not be in love with her. Together they are certainly an unlikely pair and the one laugh I found in this misery-laden movie was when he said that carrying her to his bed was like struggling with a giraffe. At a local AA meeting which she only attends occasionally and desultorily, she comes across a Mexican gal who attempts to befriend her and to involve her in a complicated plot to kidnap the son she has not seen in five years, who lives with his wealthy American grandfather. This mother is obviously a few sandwiches short of a picnic, promising financial sops that she does not actually have, and apparently has tried out this same scenario on anyone who will listen. Swinton however sees this as her big chance at getting real money and, not being able to rope in a criminal accomplice, decides to kidnap the eight-year old herself. This she accomplishes in the messiest of fashions, managing to maim and probably kill his minder in the process, and then hasn't the faintest idea of how to look after the boy or to negotiate a ransom without jeopardizing her own freedom. She just plays things by ear without much rational thought or planning.

And so it goes on as she initially ties him up in a motel room, then manages to lose him somewhere in the desert, and finally ends up in Tijuana as she tries to out-run the police now on her tail. In this most lawless of towns, the kidnapped boy is in turn kidnapped by local ruthless hooligans who think she is his rich mother and who demand money that she does not yet have -- although Rubinek is en route with grand-daddy's cash. In a kind of Stockholm Syndrome -- and its reverse --bonding has occurred between the boy and Swinton (as the lesser of two immediate evils) and she too is obsessed with saving his life, even, we are led to believe, at the risk of losing her big pay-off. The ending is left ambiguously open as we are left to wonder what in the world the pair of them will do now. Is there any ransom money left? Will she reunite the lad with his forgotten mother? Or will he return to his grandfather? And will she end up in pokey for years to come?

The truth of the matter is that by this stage I didn't really care, suffering as I was from a surfeit of Swinton. I have seen other viewers refer to her performance as Oscar-worthy, but however great it may or may not have been, it was certainly insufficient to carry such a needlessly long and over-convoluted yet small film.
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