Sunday, November 22, 2009

Review: Julia

Dir. Erick Zonca
Year: 2008/9
Aus Rating: N/A
Running Time: 144mins

A quick search on IMDb for the title "Julia" brings up roughly ten or so other projects with the exact same name, not to mention some called Julia Julia and Being Julia. That one of the Julias stars the likes of Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave and Jason Robards is like giving any movie there after with that title a push backwards. However, for as many films have been called Julia throughout the history of cinema, it's hard to imagine any of them are quite like the one that Erick Zonca presents. And while many pundits are calling for Meryl Streep to win her third Academy Award for playing a very different "Julia" - Julia Child in Nora Ephron's Julie & Julia - having now seen Swinton storm her way through Zonca's film, I can't help but wonder why everyone isn't screaming to high heaven for Swinton to win her second. Julia Vs Julia would be an interesting notion, sure, but one in which there is an easy and predictable winner: Tilda Swinton.

It's hard to properly explain just how fantastic Tilda Swinton truly is in Zonca's two and a half hour sprawling thriller. It, however, ranks as a performance of such ballsy bravura that it can easily rank alongside Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive, Laura Dern in INLAND EMPIRE and Charlize Theron in Monster as such a towering, all-encompassing beast of a performance. Playing the permanently-sozzled lush title character as if her life depended on it, Swinton charges out of the gates at full speed. Dancing up a storm to the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" and Sam Cooke's "Shopping Around" in the opening scene, gyrating on multiple partners and pouring alcohol into her gullet like petrol into a car.

I'm not going to even discuss where the film goes because, quite frankly, half the fun is getting there and not having a single clue as to what it going in (much like Julia herself has no idea what she's doing most of the time, too). Julia is not an "easy" watch, that's for sure, but it's hardly the gritty, miserable experience some may present it as. Sure, Julia is a despicable character for the majority of the films running time, doing everything including drugging children, stealing from gangsters, extorting money from drying tycoons and leaving a kid out in the desert by himself, but even when the viewer's eyes are bulging at the sheer audacity of what Julia has the guts to show, one has to admire it. Where does one, and I'm asking Erick Zonca personally here, get the nerve to write and direct a scene in which a grown woman wearing a mask waves a loaded gun in front of a child's face before tying him up to a pipe and putting masking tape over his face?

Julia isn't just a good film, however, due to Swinton's performance and the sheer audacity of Zonca's convictions. It's a technically efficient film with superb cinematography by Yorick Le Saux, interesting sound design and some sly second fiddle performances from the likes of Saul Rubinek, Kate del Castillo and Bruno Bichir. However, in the end, it really does all come down to Swinton and Zonca who have teamed up to present us with one of the most brazen films of the last few years. It is hardly surprising that the film only a got a four-night engagement at one cinema here in Melbourne. A barely attended four-night engagement, to be exact.

By the time Julia's almost comically perverse trip through Los Angeles suburbia and Mexican border towns comes to an end I felt exhausted and exhilarated and all but jumping with glee. To watch Tilda Swinton act hurricanes in Julia is to watch a master at work giving the performance of a lifetime. And if people do not go and see it because they would rather see New Moon so as to notch up some blog visitor numbers and some sarcastic tweets then so be it, but anybody willing to experience the pedal-to-the-medal bombastic tour de force of Julia will surely be enthralled from start to finish and even if one thinks the dismount that Zonca performs on the character of Julia is a discredit to the her - although I think it sits perfectly in with how the character is presented in early scenes with del Castillo - you surely cannot deny that it's a wild ride getting there and one that is completely and utterly unpredictable in every way. A-


Brook Brooks said...

Fabulous review. I really need to see this film.

And gosh, Tilda looks so beautiful in those stills.

Paul Martin said...

I saw it last night on the strength of Zonca's The Dreamlife of Angels, which made my top 3 films of 1999. That, of course, is a French film. This one is so different, and not just because it's in English (and Spanish). The energy is non-stop in Julia and Swinton's performance reminds me of her earlier work in films like Female Perversions (which I saw soon after Orlando). It really is a blast, this film, and I thoroughly 'enjoyed' it, for want of a better word.

Drew said...

I have been waiting for this for at least a year now, and your review just made me even crazier with anticipation. Too bad it will NEVER be released in cinemas in Perth. Ever.

Sid said...

I'm not a big fan of the film itself, but I agree about Tilda Swinton -- possibly the best performance of the year! I'm hoping for some critics group to remember her at the end of the year.

Anonymous said...

Have no fera if you missed it as the DVD is out in a couple of weeks time,. Hooray!

Glenn Dunks said...

Anon, really? I figured this is the sort of movie that might show up on Foxtel and that's it! Good news.

Paul, it does sound perverse to say you "enjoyed" it doesn't it, but that's sort of what it is. Watching this acceleration of these events it eventually becomes comical.

adam k. said...

I'm so on board with all the Swinton love. The film, I think, will fail to crack my top ten list... I keep teetering between B and B+... I watched it a second time, and without the unpredictability, it's much less electric, and not really that rewatchable. And I do think it goes off the rails a bit toward the end. But Swinton is undeniably genius in it.

I love especially that the slight accent issues she was having in Michael Clayton have vanished here... almost makes me think that was a choice, and not a defect, in the previous performance (a defect, btw, that never kept it from being my fave supporting perf of its year). And I didn't realize until I read in an article that she had to gain weight for this role. She's usually stick-thin and so trim looking. But she just so inhabits it, and is so riveting and unpredictable.

I'd almost rank this above, say, Watts in Mulholland Dr., since it feels like this perf is all Swinton, whereas the other one was mostly Lynch.