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“Caring, sir, is my job, my profession,” says Rosamund Pike’s dead-eyed protagonist in this efficiently callous, if rather uneven, black-comedy thriller. “All I do every day is care…” Exactly what Marla Grayson cares about is clear: money, and the power to do “whatever the fuck we want” that goes with it. To this end, she has developed a profitable scam that preys upon older people – hijacking their lives and fortunes by becoming their legal state guardian, and then milking their assets for all they’re worth. As a slimy-suited shark lawyer observes: “If your whole enterprise isn’t the perfect embodiment of the American dream, I don’t know what is.” But when Marla picks the wrong “cherry”, she finds herself face-to-face with Roman (Peter Dinklage), a former Russian mafia drug trafficker with a penchant for cakes, smoothies and cutting off his enemies’ fingers.
Written and directed by J Blakeson, who made the viscerally twisty three-hander The Disappearance of Alice Creed, I Care a Lot is a gleefully vicious affair, carried by Pike, who wears a smile that could strip wallpaper at 40 paces, and whose vape smoke evokes a dragon preparing to burn the world down. After an early courtroom confrontation with an exasperated Macon Blair, who claims that Marla has effectively kidnapped his mother, she tells him she will “grab your dick and balls and rip them clean off”.
From here, we watch Marla and her partner and lover, Fran (Eiza González), target their next victim, Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), a woman of wealth with no family, living quietly on her own. Despite insisting that she doesn’t need help, Jennifer is court-ordered out of her house and into the imprisoning corridors of the Berkshire Oaks retirement home – a bravura sequence executed with a Kafka-esque efficiency that reminded me of Steven Soderbergh’s nightmarish Unsane.
Yet for all her apparent vulnerability (Wiest is terrific at portraying the gut-wrenching mix of bewilderment and helplessness her character experiences), Jennifer is not quite what she appears. In fact, she is “the worst mistake you’ll ever make” – a woman with hidden assets whose disappearance from her home sets alarm bells ringing with people who can make Marla’s life “very uncomfortable”. One rebuffed visit from Chris Messina’s stash-carrying lawyer later, Marla is tied to a chair, staring death in the face.
Painted in bubblegum hues (the cherry red of Marla’s dress; the deep blue of Jennifer’s stolen house; the garish purple-pink of Roman’s fondant fancies) and shot in oversaturated tones that reflect the artifice and plastic superficiality of this world, Blakeson’s film has a slick, vacuum-sealed visual sheen, matched by a brittle synth-pop soundtrack. As with The Disappearance of Alice Creed, the genuinely disturbing elements of the opening act – Jennifer’s incarceration; the vulnerability of the elderly – gradually give way to more generic, heisty thrills, with Blakeson revelling in wrongfooting the audience and upending our sympathies and allegiances in a manner that recalls the Wachowskis’ debut feature Bound.
Dinklage is particularly good as the sotto voce criminal who hates getting angry, and who sucks a straw like a vampire sucking blood – a quality mirrored by his new nemesis. Yet this is very much Pike’s show; she lends a touch of Nic Cage-like craziness to her portrayal of this too-far-gone girl. In a morally bankrupt world of horrible people doing horrible things, Marla and Roman are flipsides of the same coin: two poisonous snakes intertwined in a nest of vipers.
The result is a nicely nasty tragicomedy, a rollercoaster ride that swaps real moral dilemmas for something more disposably entertaining, picking you up, spinning you around and then spitting you out with a neat sucker-punch ending that leaves you feeling entertained, if a little bit empty.
Source: The Guardian
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