Using my nifty Netflix instant account, I was able to see the Tilda Swinton film Julia. My initial reaction was shock (with how good it was), then there was reflection (about how good it was), and eventually glee (with discovering a movie that was so good). After all that hyperbole, I will make this one confession: I did not enjoy the movie itself, as much as I loved Swinton's spectacular performance.
I don't think there has ever been a movie character as wrong-headed, stubborn, or irresponsible as Julia (played by Swinton). If there has been, then I probably walked out of the theater in frustration. Falling down a slippery slope of kidnapping, extortion, and even murder, the story within Julia moves so quickly (well, as quickly as a film can move in 143 minutes) that we almost forgive her incredibly dumb decisions. She lacks forethought and empathy, but for some reason she is riveting and audiences won't be able to stop watching.
Swinton is a great actress, we all know. But with Julia, she is submerging into her truly transgressive core. In films like Orlando and Female Perversions, she took full advantage of her androgynous allure and vulnerability on screen. Even in Michael Clayton (for which she won the Oscar), she shows how unafraid she is to look unflattering. Yet, there is something incredibly enticing about her when she's on the screen, and Julia may very well be her greatest achievement. Her character is an alcoholic, sleeps with men precariously, has debts owed to various people, and decides in one moment to kidnap her neighbor's son. So why do we want to watch this woman for more than two hours? Because Swinton commits fully to this troubled woman and makes her tragic. As she digs herself deeper and deeper, we know that there is no way she'll be able to escape her situation, but we always hope that she'll find a way.
'Julia' is yet another Swinton performance that makes you rethink her position on the Great Actress Pantheon (yeah, I think about these kinds of things...)
The film was from 2008, but distribution problems prevented the film from being released before earlier this year. Because of that, most people have yet to see Julia—though those who have mention Swinton just as glowingly as I do. In a fair world, Swinton would be getting some serious Best Actress traction (and other than Carey Mulligan, Swinton is the only other actress who I would nominate today), but I don’t think she’ll be able to overcome the strong influence of veteran actresses like Meryl Streep (for Julie & Julia) and Helen Mirren (for The Last Station), or subvert the growing buzz for the newcomers Mulligan and Gabourey Sidibe (for Precious).
So, I guess all I can say is this: watch the film. It’s a stunning piece of work by a filmmaker who I’m not familiar with (Erick Zonca) but has a concrete vision. Also, you get to see what I think could be the seminal performance from one of today’s best actors. FYC: Tilda Swinton in Julia.