Dir: Erick Zonca. France , 2008. 138 mins.
Overlong, overblown and underscripted, Erick Zonca's first theatrical feature in 10 years hangs together by a single thread: Tilda Swinton's breathless performance as an in-denial alcoholic who finds herself implicated, out of sheer drunken gullibility, in the kidnapping of a child for ransom.
But as formidable an actress as Swinton is - and no one can deny her talent - she has been saddled with far too heavy a burden here, and even she cannot keep Zonca's tentative tale alive for over two hours.
Looking like The Lost Weekend meets Cassavetes' Gloria, with some motherhood issues thrown in for good measure, this attempt to mix an exploration of alcoholism with an action movie turns out badly for everyone involved, with weak prospects in the commercial market and lame chances in the art house one.
Julia (Swinton), a fortysomething redhead who drinks around the clock, is kicked out of her job and has to attend AA meetings or she will lose the support of her friend and protector Mitch (Rubinek).
At the meetings, she meets Elena (de Castillo) a Latino woman who drags her into a cockeyed scheme involving the kidnapping of Elena's son, who lives with his millionaire grandfather.
The idea is to pay Julia a lot of money (which Elena allegedly has back home in Mexico), but she has a better idea. She will kidnap the boy, Tom (Gould) on her own and then ask for an even higher ransom from Elena.
Things, however, go awry. By the time Julia has succeeded in abducting the child, she has also realised that Elena has no money and is forced to approach the grandfather for ransom. On the run with the child, she ends up in Tijuana where she falls prey to a slimy local conman.
As she lies in a drunken stupor, Tom is kidnapped - this time for real. And Julia has to gather her failing wits and release Tom, for whom she now nurses motherly feelings, from his captors.
A far cry from Gloria - an evident inspiration but far superior in every respect - this boasts a seriously confused plot. Whatever Zonca really wanted to achieve with this film, it is quite clear that he never made up his mind how to go about it.
The first quarter, mostly dedicated to the portrait of a lost soul, turns out to be the best, if only because of Swinton's performance. The second part, in which Julia is supposed to be taken in by Elena's tale, is rickety: even a chronic drunk wouldn't get involved in such a scam.
And once she becomes the only perpetrator of the crime, the film begins to fall apart, and her bonding with the boy is neither well prepared nor convincingly portrayed.
Shot in California and Mexico, using the same type of nervous, handheld camera style that was so rewarding in Zonca's earlier The Dream Life Of Angels, the picture is in dire need of further editing.
As for Swinton, this is certainly her film: she is on screen for almost every frame, and it is easy to see why such a blowsy, troubled, tormented, frustrated and desperate character attracted the actress. But there is more to a film than just a central performance, no matter how good.
00 33 6 10 13 81 71
Director of photography
Kate de Castillo
Horacio Garcia Rojas