A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
Tilda Swinton is fearless. She’ll take on any role without her ego, paycheck, vanity or career path playing a part. All that matters, apparently, is whether the movie interests her, and whether she thinks she can do something interesting with the role. She almost always can. She hasn’t often been more fascinating than in “Julia,” a nerve-wracking thriller with a twisty plot and startling realism.
We have not seen this Tilda before — but then, we haven’t seen most of the Tildas before. This one is an alcoholic slut who lacks what we are pleased to call normal feminine emotions. She’s just been fired from another job. Her pattern is to get sloppy drunk every night and drag a strange man to bed. She needs money. Her neighbor Elena (Kate del Castillo) comes to her with an offer. Her young son is now living with his millionaire grandfather, who won’t allow her to see him. She needs somebody to help her kidnap the child.
This is the beginning of Julia’s nightmare journey through a thorny thicket of people you do not want to meet. If there’s one thing that’s consistent about her behavior, it’s how she lies to all of them. This is not one of those tough heroines you sort of like. You don’t like her. She makes not the slightest effort to be liked. She doesn’t give a damn. She cuts back on the drinking, however, perhaps because she is constantly fleeing — both away from, and toward.
You have to give a lot of credit to Erick Zonca, the 53-year-old French director who co-wrote the film with Aude Py. He makes it move relentlessly. He skillfully buries it in seedy American and Mexican locations that never, ever, feel like sets. He uses a child actor and uses him well. He makes no attempt to sentimentalize the kid, who is spoiled and hostile. He puts Swinton at the center of this, and she plays Julia as a tough broad who is in way over her head, and desperately invents stories to mislead those who want the money involved — which starts out at $50,000 before she cheats her way up to $2 million.