You can perhaps understand why Tilda Swinton would want to take on the title role of Julia in Erick Zonca’s monstruously undisciplined film. An aging alcoholic, defiant of attempts to change a lifestyle that usually ends up with her comatose from a hard night’s partying and heavy drinking, resistant of any efforts to get her to participate in AA meetings, it’s the kind of meaty leading role that is scarce for actresses of a certain age, and one far removed from the usual ice-maiden roles that Swinton is normally typecast in (Narnia, Michael Clayton, Benjamin Button). But when her twitchy reforming alcoholic Mexican neighbour Elena (Kate del Castillo) hatches a plot to kidnap her own son out of the care of his multi-millionaire grandfather, thinking that the women who has just woken up on her couch after collapsing in her drive with no memory of the previous night might be the ideal associate for her lunatic scheme, you sense that the plot isn’t going to be enough to sustain any credible characterisation.
The more serious problems in Julia however come from the performances attuned to an overwrought plot and a director with Cassavetes delusions who has no ability to harness the excesses of actors given free-rein here to indulge themselves. The titanic tussle between Swinton and del Castillo early in the film as to who can take the histrionics to the highest register has some serious competition when the action moves to Mexico, where the fact that kidnapping is apparently the “national pastime” places an additional strain on the viewer’s tolerance. The task of carrying the film and make up for the deficiencies in credibility and characterisation lies almost entirely on Swinton’s shoulders but even with a role expressly written for her, she proves to be a liability and well out of her depth as a swaggering, suicidal, criminal American alcoholic. It would take a lot more than endless screaming for this film to carry any conviction or engage the viewer on a narrative or emotional level.
The Disc: The first release from the Artificial Eye spin-off Chelsea Films, Julia is presented on a dual-layer disc with a fine 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer, the deeply saturated colouration coming across very strongly indeed with no noticeable flaws. Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 mixes are included, both relatively clear. The surround mix has a strong central presence for the dialogue, but lacks depth and range, never carrying the requisite punch in the action sequences. Extra features include an Interview with Tilda Swinton (14:37) and some incompetently staged and performed Deleted Scenes (29:36) from the initial 4-hour cut of the film. The scenes are introduced by the director but the optional commentary advertised is not present. A Trailer (1:43) is also included.