Tilda Swinton in Julia

At its highest, Erick Zonca’s Julia gave me the sensation of being caught on a whirling carousel (perhaps like the one in Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train?) of crosses, double crosses, triple crosses—a roundelay of wheeling and dealing by the film’s leading lady, Tilda Swinton, as a roaring alcoholic turned incompetent kidnapper. The movie and the actress reach a kind of apotheosis of hustling, of thinking on one’s feet, in a sequence set in a grimy bathroom. There amid the stalls and the formidably trashed urinals, Swinton’s Julia—held at gunpoint—simultaneously tries to protect someone, extricate herself from a jam, and incriminate yet another guest in this crowded lavatory by playing off the paranoid suspicions of the assembled thugs, as if criminal pathology were a scale of musical notes and she their virtuosic interpreter.

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