STUDIO: Magnolia Home Entertainment
MSRP: $26.98
RUNNING TIME: 144 minutes
• Deleted Scenes
• Trailer
• Trailers for other Magnolia releases

The Pitch

It’s Gloria meets Traffic, with a hint of Babel.

The Humans

Directed by Erick Zonca
Written by Erick Zonca and Aude Py
Starring Tilda Swinton, Saul Rubinek, Kate Del Castillo and Jude Ciccolella

The Nutshell

Lowdown alcoholic Tilda Swinton finds redemption after kidnapping a little kid and headin’ to Mexico.

“You ever see that movie Crash? No, not that one. The other Crash. Yeah, it’s like that, but me… I prefer ‘em parked.”

The Lowdown

Julia Phillips isn’t a very easy person to like. In the opening minutes of the eponymous Julia, the character, ably played by Tilda Swinton, gets rip-roaringly drunk, sleeps with a married man in the parking lot, and upon waking the next morning, is late to her job, where she is promptly fired. Her only ally, an ex-lover named Mitch (Saul Rubinek!), is increasingly losing patience with her, having loaned her money with the expectation that she will find help. But the AA meetings are just an annoyance, as the alcoholic Julia sees no reason to change her ways. Blowsily stumbling through a life of alcohol and random sex, Julia is headed for a disaster – and in a just world, Swinton would be heading for an Oscar nomination.

An outtake from one of Swinton’s earliest films, The Legend of Ghostrape Jones.

Julia soon meets her neighbor (Kate Del Castillo) at an AA meeting. “I’m not really down with the good neighbor shit,” she snarls, but the woman’s desperation soon grabs Julia’s attention. The woman’s son, Tom (Aidan Gould), has been taken from her custody and lives with his wealthy grandfather. Julia’s desperate, too; she’s in a lot of debt with some undesirable people. You can see where this is going. Needless to say, Julia kidnaps the boy. If her extortion attempt worked flawlessly, we’d have a much shorter film, but as you can imagine, things take a turn for the worse, sending Julia on the run to Mexico, where, just maybe, she finds a bit of humanity. You’ll have to watch and see.

Directed by Erick Zonca, a French director previously best known for the Cannes breakout The Dreamlife of Angels, Julia is an anxious thriller anchored by a stunning central performance. Swinton’s Julia is monstrous, a chain-smoking, foul-mouthed wreck who can’t seem to function when she’s sober – or when she’s drunk, for that matter. As Roger Ebert astutely pointed out in his review, there aren’t many working actresses willing to go there, but Swinton dives headfirst into the character, providing the most complete performance she’s given since The War Zone.

In her defense, he was asking for it.

And Zonca is smart enough to trust his actors. There is no grand humanizing epiphany moment for Julia; this is not that kind of film. But the character does change, and this is only evident in Swinton’s mannerisms and line delivery, along with a closing line that more naturally summarizes her development than a thousand cloying monologues possibly could. This is “show, don’t tell” filmmaking, and very natural in its plotting and visuals, as Zonca works with a primarily handheld camera style to reflect both immediacy and the character’s anxiety.

“You knew what you were getting into. Didn’t you ever see Orlando? What part of ‘born a man, became a woman’ was unclear?

Lest you think this is a one-woman show… well, it basically is. Saul Rubinek makes an impression as the decent but fed-up former fling of Julia’s who unwittingly gets sucked into her kidnapping scheme. Aidan Gould is annoying, playing a spoiled rich kid who whines basically the whole time, but you’d expect that, and while he can grate, it doesn’t feel like a Hollywoodized affectation.

But this is Swinton’s showcase, even if I feel like the film as a whole goes off the rails a bit when the two reach Mexico and the plotting sort of falls apart. I’m trying to be oblique here because it’s worth not really knowing where the story goes; while it gets a little silly, Swinton keeps it grounded and single-handedly makes it work. Hers is one of the best, most fearless performances of 2009.

Charlie Kaufman is unable to complete a draft of his latest screenplay, but this time, the producer is fed up.

The Package

The package art showcases looming, distressed Swintonface and some critics’ quotes. There are about 26 minutes of deleted scenes, presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, that play in succession. Nothing too revelatory here, and the movie’s already 144 minutes long so it’s hard to make a case for any of these, though we get more with Saul Rubinek, and I can think of worse ways to spend your time. We also have the film’s trailer, and a handful of trailers for other Magnolia releases. Reasonably bare-bones, but it happens. You’re not picking this up for the special features.

8.0 out of 10