Julia | Erick Zonca, 2009
I am grateful toward The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe for one thing: it introduced me to Tilda Swinton. Since then I have looked forward to everything that she has done. I haven’t seen her previous work because I’m wary of them based on what she likes to do, but eventually I’ll catch up. Julia came on my radar in 2008 when Swinton was nominated for a Cesar Award (the French Oscars) for Best Actress. It was released in the United States in the summer of 2009 with little fanfare from the studio, but critics loved it, especially Swinton’s performance. I had been dying to watch it since but since I live in the middle of nowhere I could not. I have now finally seen it, and I will say that it lived up my extremely high expectations.
In Julia, Swinton plays Julia Harris, an aging drunk who goes out and gets drunk every night and always wakes up in the bed of some stranger. She goes to AA meetings, but they don’t really do anything for her. One day in one of those meetings she meets Elena (Kate Del Castillo), a woman who says that her former in-law is keeping her son from seeing her. One day, Elena asks Julia if she can help her kidnap her son, and promises to pay her. Julia needs money, and she agrees. Julia then plans to cross her and get more money out of the kidnapping. However, eventually things get out of hand, and she ends up fighting for the life of the kid.
Before getting to the main reason why I love this film so much (I bet you already know what it is), I must prais the director and his co-writer. As a director, Zonka takes the first two-thirds of the movie slowly so that we get to meet Julia properly and see her situation. That only prepares us for extremely thrilling final act that moves extremely fast. Also, the writing is excellent. Not only is the dialogue believable, but the situation that she gets into in the end is ever so true. In any other movie you would somewhat need to suspend your disbelief for that third act, but thanks to Zonka and Swinton, you believe that what you are seeing is real.
This bring me to Swinton’s performance. The greates thing about her is that she only takes on roles that she likes and that she knows she will be able to do something unexpected. From the first scene, I forgot she was Tilda Swinton, and I got so interested in this character that I could not even look away from the screen. For me, this is the performance of the year and one of the absolute best of the decade.
Julia never reached the audience it should have. It was released as an art film, and it only grossed about 20,000 dollars. It could have become a moderate box office hit with support from a major studio, but since Swinton is not Angelina Jolie, it was up to Magnolia to get people to see it. I’m glad it got picked up, but they didn’t push it hard enough. Had it been a bigger hit, I’m sure Swinton would have gotten the Best Actress Oscar nomination that she richly deserved.