In movies like “No Country For Old Men,” and a dozen others, most of the tension comes from watching the hero attempt to outsmart the villain, or the cops, or the establishment. Nothing ever goes according to plan, and we revel in the suspense of watching as they try to come up with a new plan. And we usually put ourselves in their shoes, and see if we can figure out what the new plan is before the film makes it obvious. In this pseud0-genre, the best films are the ones with ingeniously clever plans we didn’t think of, and the worst are the ones with incredibly stupid plans that would never work, leaving us feel like we did all that thinking for nothing.
“Julia” gives the genre a new twist. Our protagonist, embarks on a kidnapping caper in which she desperately needs a well thought-out plan. Her enemies are formidable and doublecrossing is on her mind. But as the movie progresses, it becomes more and more obvious that she doesn’t have a plan, and may not be actually be capable of planning at all. She doesn’t think ahead. She doesn’t anticipate her opponent’s next move. She just acts, and then reacts. She’s not dumb, she’s just not used to thinking like a criminal. Oddly, this adds tension to the plot; because you can’t count on her to do the smart thing, anything, really, becomes possible. And the movie really goes with that; in fact, it goes places one wouldn’t have thought in the realm of possibility when things got started.
In the midst of all this is Tilda Swinton, one of the most talented actresses working in movies today. I think without her incredible performance here, the movie wouldn’t work at all. Her character is foolish, impulsive, selfish, and sometimes quite stupid. Swinton keeps us caring about her, keeps us rooting for her in all her ugliness, and keeps us tied to the increasingly wild and wooly plot. It’s the performance of the year. I hope the Oscars are paying attention.