Tilda Swinton's performances have a certain 'nail you to the floor' quality about them that demands attention - so it's great to see her getting some serious screentime at the heart of this film.

She plays the eponymous anti-heroine - a "suicidal, blind alcoholic", gradually spiralling to the bottom of a bottle. Connected tenuously to reality by her best friend Mitch (Saul Rubinek), himself a recovering dipsomaniac, she agrees to go to AA meetings, only to meet a neighbour whose grip on reality seems even more fragile than her own. The neighbour, Elena (Kate del Castillo) is obsessed with regaining custody of her son from his grandfather and has constructed an elaborate and, to the sober eye, harebrained scheme to kidnap him.

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Seeing the possibility of cash as a magic wand that will somehow solve her own, much more egocentric, troubles, Julia decides to cut Elena out of the loop and kidnap the boy herself, and the film moves unerringly from drama to thriller. It isn't long before she finds that it is almost impossible to control a youngster when taking care of yourself is a Herculean task.

Swinton is mesmerising as a messed-up drunk. She ferociously inhabits Julia, an ageing party girl who blasts through the lives of others like a force of nature, papering over the cracks in her psyche with the mess of lies she peddles. And yet, as her journey with little Tom (Aiden Gould) goes along, she finds herself developing a connection with him.

Director Erick Zonca keeps us with Julia continually, viewing things from her perspective and as her trip becomes increasingly 'trippy', we begin to feel as unsure of what will happen next as she does. The Julia-centric nature of things, however, tends to marginalise the subsidiary characters more than is welcome. Rubinek matches Swinton step for step with a performance so excellent that you can't help wishing there was more of him - but since this is Julia's show, it's a case of out of sight, out of mind.

More problematic, from a storytelling point of view, is the growing together of Julia and Tom. Although Julia's transition is believable - she hasn't had anyone to look after before, so this is an entirely new game for her - Tom coming to share this connection is less likely. Would a boy really clamber in bed with a woman who had, within the past 48 hours, snatched him away from his family, drugged him, tied him up and tossed him in the boot of a car... twice? Swinton is the philosopher's stone here, turning what could have been a serious flaw in the film into something that maintains credibility.

The whole narrative is built upon internal conflict. Gould invests Tom with sufficient reticence to show that he is willing to play along with Julia, since she is the only person who can get him back to his family, while Swinton draws the audience into the tense and volatile world of her character, where hugging the boy is a mere hair's breadth away from hurting him.

Although Julia is not a particularly likeable individual, Swinton invests her with enough humanity that we are continually willing her to straighten up and fly right, even as we condemn her actions. Undoubtedly overlong and with some plot development that stretches the bounds, this is still a hard-boiled, nerve-shreddingly tense ride that deserves a wider release than it is currently getting.

Reviewed on: 10 Dec 2008
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An alcoholic finds herself in deep trouble after kidnapping a kid.
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Director: Erick Zonca

Writer: Michael Collins, Camille Natta, Aude Py, Erick Zonca

Starring: Tilda Swinton, Saul Rubinek, Kate del Castillo, Aidan Gould, Jude Ciccolella, Bruno Bichir, Horacio Garcia Rojas, Kevin Kilner, John Bellucci, Ezra Buzzington

Year: 2008

Runtime: 138 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France, US, Mexico, Belgium


CFF 2008

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