When the once-æthereal muse of the late Derek Jarman wiped sweat from her armpits in Michael Clayton, a new persona was born. In Erick Zonca’s tense and juicy noir, Tilda Swinton plays the title role with a crusty panache matched only by her matted, flaming-red thatch of hair (a character in its own right).
The film opens with Julia in full party mode; that’s followed by a typical morning after — waking up in a stranger’s car, her coated tongue darting from dehydration. She’s bottoming out, losing her job, and her best friend and sponsor, Mitch (Saul Rubinek). Then crazy Elena (Kate del Castillo) buttonholes her at an AA meeting with a proposition: help her kidnap her son from his millionaire grandfather and she’ll pay Julia 50 grand.
But Julia has bigger ambitions, and they draw her into a world of violence and, inevitably, maternal instincts. Zonca keeps the resolution from getting pat, and Swinton makes it clear that, come what may, Julia will always want another drink.