Monday, April 23, 2012

Tilda Swinton's virtuoso role in "Julia" almost pulls the film off; seems less compelling than its predecessors

I confess that I rented the 2008 film “Julia”, by director Erick Zonka (for Studio Canal and Magnolia, a “French film” in English shot in the US border area and in LA) out of curiosity, wondering if it had anything to do with the 1977 hit (below) of the same name.

A “maxim” of screenwriting is to create crises and see if your characters can solve their way out of them, but the characters have to inspire a rooting interesting, even if perverse.  That’s hard to see here.  Tilda Swinton may be masterful as the manipulating boozer who learns some humanity and mothering skills on her journey, but it all seems somewhat of an exercise.

An early scene where Julia (Swinton) gets fired from her real estate sales job for her alcohol-driven behavior, is commanding and well done.  Pretty soon, in AA, she, now broke, gets back to her scheming, when fellow “traveler” Elena (Kate del Castillo) wants Julia to help her kidnap her son Tom (Aidan Gould) from his grandfather.  That scene pretty well conveys the deception or double-talk people employ when desperate.   

When Julia can’t get her “friends” to help, she goes it alone, kidnapping Tom (with a mask) near the border in a startlingly brutal scene.  She then tries to blackmail the grandfather to get the money herself.  In the chases and scramble that follows, leading to a shoot-out at the end, she does become a quasi-mother herself.

The official site is here.
The film is said to be inspired by John Cassavetes’s film "Gloria" in 1980, which I haven’t seen.
Tilda Swinton gives an interview here, and says she actually can’t drink!  “You have to prove that your film will make a lot of money before anybody will give you any money, and you have to have directed three commercials”.  She talks about “cultural film”.

Now, for some reminiscence. 

The 1977 (20th Century Fox) film "Julia", by Fred Zinnemann in which Jane Fonda plays playwright Lillian Hellman, who is eventually enlisted by her childhood friend Julia (Vanessa Redgrave) to help with an anti-Nazi smuggling effort.  I remember a powerful scene in which they meet late in the film. I saw the movie on the Upper East Side in NYC in 1977 and the audience applauded the film. 

The second film does have a common plot concept, of one person enlisting a friend to do a "dangerous mission".  But the first film gets much more interest from the audience in the integrity of the characters.  

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