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Monday, August 17, 2009

JULIA -- DVD review by porfle

It doesn't take long to figure out that it's going to be a lot of fun watching Tilda Swinton stumble, blunder, and bluff her way through the title role of Erick Zonca's nail-biting thriller JULIA (2008). Julia is a sloppy drunk who screws strangers in back seats and wakes up wondering where she is and who she's with, and petulantly spews profanities even as she's trying to sweet-talk her boss out of firing her or a blazing-eyed killer out of blowing her brains out.

Her friend Mitch (Saul Rubinek), who puts up with her because he loves her and recognizes in her the same self-destructive behavior that once caused him to lose his family, warns Julia that she is an "out-of-control, suicidal, blind alcoholic." This doesn't help, though, because being exactly that is the only thing she knows how to do. And Tilda Swinton, with rarely-seen abandon, grabs the role by the horns and rides it like a mechanical bull.

Julia heckles and jeers her way through A.A. meetings before fleeing toward her next drink. It's during her brief time at one of these meetings that she meets Elena (Kate del Castillo), a bright-faced young Mexican woman who comes to her with a proposition--if Julia will help Elena kidnap her son Tommy away from his grandfather, a wealthy electronics tycoon, Elena will pay her $50,000. Why doesn't Elena have custody of Tommy? Because she's crazy as a loon, that's why, and so is her plan, but the desperate Julia's brain is so booze-addled that she actually imagines it might work. It's right about here that I begin to get this sickly feeling because I know what happens next isn't going to turn out well.

It doesn't, and there's a fatality, and before you know it Julia is a fugitive holding a kidnapped kid at gunpoint in a motel room. She ties him up and feeds him pills to keep him knocked out, and ends up demanding a ransom from the old man. What started as a portrait of a pathetic alcoholic is now the increasingly disturbing story of a crazy woman who either has no moral compass or simply can't comprehend the monstrousness of her actions. But even as bad turns to worse, she continues to barrel headlong through each hopeless situation just to keep from getting pinned down, no matter what it takes.

Things get even worse--I mean, really, really worse--when Julia ends up in Tijuana and Tommy gets kidnapped again, only this time by guys who won't hesitate to kill him if she doesn't fork over the cash that she's trying to squeeze out of the old man. Here's where her status as an "out-of-control, suicidal, blind alcoholic" comes in handy. In one of the most harrowing descents into inner-city hell that I've seen in quite some time, Julia plunges into one nightmarish scenario after another with two things driving her on--the money and the kid. They're like scales bobbing up and down in her mind.

I don't know if she's fully responsible for her own horribleness or not, but we know that she's in need of one hell of a huge redemption after the way she's treated Tommy and what she's gotten him into. At any rate, it's thrilling to watch her deal with these ultra-bad guys by the seat of her pants and dodge certain death with nothing but her wits and a wild-eyed cunning that she seems to draw out of thin air. And despite a keen sense of self-preservation, Julia improvises her way through each step of her perilous ordeal with a "screw you" recklessness that's exhilarating.

The DVD from Magnolia Home Entertainment is 2.35:1 widescreen with 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital sound and Spanish subtitles. Extras consist of about twenty minutes of deleted scenes and a trailer.

The final minutes of JULIA are so suspenseful and intense that the experience left me feeling as though I'd been punched in the gut. There's no catharsis at the end--only a sense that something nerve-wracking has just happened, like almost getting broadsided by a semi at an intersection and having to pull over until you stop shaking. I don't particularly enjoy feeling that way, but I'm still glad I watched this movie. And I now have a whole new appreciation for Tilda Swinton as an actress. She's awesome.

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