March 10, 2010

Justify My Netflix: Julia (2008)

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

Julia (2008)

Today's movie: Julia, 2008 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because I heard Leonard Maltin of all people extolling its virtues the other week on public radio; and he did such a convincing job that I indeed decided to stick it in my Netflix queue.

The reality: Holy crap! Billed as a sentimental tearjerker about an out-of-control alcoholic, this is most definitely NOT the film one gets when actually renting it, but rather one of the darkest and grimmest noir tales I've ever seen or read in any medium, a remorseless look at a character who is clearly supposed to be a despicable villain (played with her usual intensity by 'Queen Of The Baddies' Tilda Swinton), and examining the combination of sociopathy, naked greed and rampant substance abuse that causes her to do the unspeakably evil things she does. That's really the most brilliant part of this film, in fact, and what makes it so memorable, is that writer/director Erick Zonca has not even the slightest interest in garnering the audience's sympathy for his main character, such a slap in the face to the conventional wisdom of Hollywood films; it is instead a character study of evil, pure unadulterated evil, which turns out to be a surprisingly unsettling thing to base a two-hour experience around.

Like all great noirs, the story is a fairly simple one -- Julia is a trainwreck wino and unappealing sex addict, being forced to attend AA meetings by her now-clean buddy, at which point she meets a mentally disturbed Mexican woman who claims that her industrialist ex-husband has stolen her tween son, and that there'd be a huge reward for her if she helped her steal him back; but unlike everyone else in the recovery group, Julia actually believes the woman and makes plans to help her with her caper, which then gets even more complicated when she decides during a binge session that she could get even more money by re-kidnapping the kid from the mom after he's been reverse-stolen, in that the Mexican woman can't go to the police since she's guilty of kidnapping herself. As you can expect (and as is typical in noirs), the entire thing turns out to be a disaster; but the surprising thing is that everything I've mentioned occurs within the first half-hour, with this wildly digressive script going off in all kinds of other unexpected directions by the time it's over, including a jaunt to Mexico itself and a rapidly growing pile of bodies. Like I said, though, mostly this inventive story exists simply to paint us an unforgettable portrait of evil, this pathologically lying monster who will literally do anything to weasel her way out of responsibility; merely the number of ways she manages to be reprehensible in a two-hour period is enough to boggle the mind, much less that you're riveted to your seat the entire time as well (although make no mistake -- unlike almost every other movie on the subject, there is never a point where you're lulled into having a grudging sympathy for her, instead just becoming more and more disgusted the longer the movie goes on). It's a gusty decision, within a medium and industry that highly frowns on such a thing, and it's easy to see why this film makes such a profound impression on nearly everyone who sees it. It comes highly, highly recommended today. Thank you, Leonard Maltin!

Strangest piece of trivia: This movie was inspired by the John Cassavetes film Gloria.

Worth your time? Oh my, yes

Filed by Jason Pettus at 4:19 PM, March 10, 2010. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |