Julia (15)

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The Independent Culture

There's a deluded, unhinged character at the heart of Julia - Erick Zonca's barely disguised tribute to John Cassavetes's 1980 film Gloria.

Then, it was Gena Rowlands on the run from the Mob in Manhattan. Here, it's Tilda Swinton playing a washed-up actress in Los Angeles, so lost to booze that she can wake up in a stranger's car with her dress pushed up to her waist. Brittle and blowsy, Swinton's Julia is one of those performances that goes so far in repelling audience sympathy that it comes out the other side looking almost admirable. I don't think I've seen anyone do hangovers quite so nakedly: the fried-egg eyes, the pallid skin, the look of bewilderment are so spot-on you could believe she really is feeling the morning-after. (A nice irony: Swinton is no drinker, just like Richard E Grant, another famous dipsomaniac in Withnail and I.)

Prompted by a one-time alcoholic friend (Saul Rubinek), Julia finds herself at an AA meeting where she runs into Elena (Kate del Castillo), a woman even more desperate than she is. Elena wants to recover her young son from his plutocrat grandfather and enlists Julia in a kidnap scheme, which almost immediately goes wrong. On the run and hiding out in scuzzy motel rooms, Julia keeps the boy, Tom (Aidan Gould), bound and terrified; she's decided this could be a get-rich-quick scam, though her lack of criminal savvy is perhaps less comic than writer-director Zonca seems to think. He is preparing us for Julia's change of heart, but her force-feeding the boy sleeping pills and letting him wander alone through the desert aren't easily forgotten.

Zonca, who's struggled to finance his work since his cult 1999 hit The Dream Life of Angels, spends the first half spooling out too much rope to his title character, then crosses into Mexico for a thriller denouement. Neither half is satisfactory, though Swinton's impersonation of a woman on the edge of a breakdown will leave no one indifferent. If you encountered that mongoose stare in real life, you'd duck for cover.