What begins as a grim character study of a middle-aged alcoholic becomes a blackly funny crime caper/road movie. Tilda Swinton is in ferocious good form as the titular 40-year-old drunk, a woman whose natural good looks and flamboyant attitude are increasingly no disguise for her loneliness and self-loathing. Unable to hold down a job, and on the verge of alienating her sole friend, a recovering alcoholic named Mitch (Saul Rubinek), the desperate and almost destitute Julia agrees to participate in a kidnapping. But when the plan goes pear-shaped, Julia finds herself abandoning the bars of Los Angeles for the alien landscape of New Mexico as she goes on the run with a rich man’s young son (Aidan Gould).
Appearing in virtually every scene in the film, Swinton delivers a tour-de-force performance that’s far more impressive than her recent US-set crime movie dalliances with George Clooney in Burn After Reading and Michael Clayton. Meanwhile, French director Erick Zonca (The Dreamlife of Angels, The Little Thief) pulls off the tricky feat of transforming the film from character piece into genre film. Along the way Zonca manages to effect several tonal switches without damaging the narrative or losing a sense of coherence. Despite some seriously despicable behaviour, Julia remains a surprisingly sympathetic protagonist.
Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Fri 9–Tue 13 Jan.