Tilda Swinton = Queen Bitch 

click to enlarge juliatildaswinton.jpg

Directed by Erick Zonca

Julia, like its vodka-soaked title character, can be a disorienting surprise. At first cowriter-director Erick Zonca helps you get to know her (Tilda Swinton, looking ever more like Man Who Fell to Earth-era David Bowie) by her streetwalker dresses and cussed mood swings, then jumps you with an at-least double-bound plot, as she teeters opportunistically into a kidnapping scheme with a maternal twist. The avowed inspiration is Cassavetes' Gloria, but fans of Jim Thompson will feel their own déjà vu. Partly it's scenarios — the necessary nurturing of a kidnapped kid, the powerlessness of using coin lockers — but mostly the world: the booze-clouded judgment; the impossibility of trusting anyone like yourself; the sense of inextricability, where the only way to avert a dead end is to bang a louie onto another; the shady old friends — shaded by Zonca into flavorsome presences all the way down the movie, from autopiloted AA volunteers to a Mexican gang's apologetic front. Julia is tensely specific for all 138 minutes; the nervy handheld camera keeps hitting iconically off-centered widescreen compositions. Julia swerves but never skids around its own tonal hairpins: D.T. shivers, Oedipal sight gags, hair-trigger negotiations through an interpreter.

Razor's-edgy, too, is Swinton, who's severely abrupt even as a sleeping-in-her-fake-eyelashes drunk. And Zonca gets his star's capacity for being in and out of the moment, for simultaneously embodying and acknowledging black comedy, self-parody, thriller and melodrama: she's redeemed by caring for the kid, sure, but at first frighteningly and inappropriately so, bathing and tucking him in at gunpoint. A human alientation effect, she at first address her hostage from behind a full-face black mask — it's practically kabuki. If you laughed inappropriately loud at The World's Worst Pediatrician in Burn After Reading, this is the morally unresolved white-knuckle amateur crime thriller for you.

Opens May 8

Questions and comments: film@thelmagazine.com


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