A film review by Craig J. Koban February 28, 2021

I CARE A LOT jjj
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2021, R, 118 mins.

Rosamund Pike as Marla Grayson  /  Peter Dinklage as Roman Lunyov  /  Eiza González as Fran  /  Dianne Wiest as Jennifer Peterson  /  Chris Messina as Dean Ericson  /  Isiah Whitlock Jr. as Judge Lomax  /  Macon Blair as Feldstrom  /  Alicia Witt as Dr. Amos

Written and directed by J Blakeson

 

 

ORIGINAL FILM

The ultra black comedy/satire thriller (and ironically titled) I CARE A LOT (streaming either on Amazon Prime or Netflix, depending on your region) begs an often asked question of me: 

Can a film be truly entertaining if it contains a cavalcade of toxically reprehensible people? 

I would answer yes, and this film from English director J. Blakeson (THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED) is no exception. 

And, man, are the characters that populate I CARE A LOT ever toxically reprehensible.  

At the center of the film is a performance of astounding dexterity by Rosamund Pike, who plays a character so cold hearted, deceptive, and ruthlessly determined that she'd make the role she helmed in GONE GIRL feel relatively tame and well adjusted by comparison.  Pike oozes venomous deceitfulness playing a smooth talking con artist that convinces vulnerable and defenseless senior citizens to leave their homes and enter into long term care facilities, during which time she lawfully appoints herself as their legal guardian.  While these victims waste away in these facilities, this deceitful witch sells off all of their assets - including their homes and their possessions - to make a quick fortune, all of which is allowed because of her shrewd ability to convince the courts of her well meaning and peaceful nature as a caregiver. 

I mean...yeah...yikes. 

Not only is I CARE A LOT a performance showpiece for Pike (a far better and more versatile actress than she's usually given credit for), but Blakeson's film makes for a searing take on modern day capitalism without any moral radar whatsoever.  That, and the film also has an unexpected vibe of timeliness in the sense that it shows elderly people suffering under the shady bureaucratic and political weight of those that run care homes and pledge to look after them (seeing horrendous mismanagement in these homes during our current pandemic worldwide gives I CARE A LOT an underlining eerie vibe).  Beyond that, this caper thriller takes multiple detours and twists that most viewers will find fiendishly unexpected.  The film does regrettably fall apart in its final sections and doesn't quite know when to end, but it works as a savage and unexpectedly engrossing genre effort. 

 

 

The aforementioned predatory crook that Pike plays with great relish and glee is Marla, who works with her partner and lover in Fran (Eiza Gonzalez) to hunt down and locate seniors that have no one in life, but have accumulated wealth and a decent retirement nest egg for the pair to sink their teeth into.  The have fine tuned this grift to meticulous levels of perfection, which involves them politely confronting their targets as concerned caretakers and then use their connections in the legal and medical systems to get these old people to be committed against their wills to care homes (usually on some dreamed up claim that they mentally or physically can't care for themselves anymore on a daily basis).  Marla and Fran hone in their crosshairs on Jennifer (Dianne Wiest), who's an older woman that's apparently never married nor had kids.  Most importantly, she seems affluent, which makes dollar signs flash over Marla's head.  She manages to convince the court that Jennifer is incapable of tending to herself, which allows for Marla and Fran to lock her up and swoop in on her vast fortune (which includes a secret stash of diamonds).  All in all, this looks like the score to end all scores for the criminal team. 

There's one pesky issue, though: It's slowly revealed that Jennifer is by no means a saint, nor a simple minded, susceptible, or ordinary piece of easy-to-rob prey.  Jennifer is approaching the beginning stages of dementia, yes, but is no where close to requiring a trip to the old folk's home.  That, and Marla learns to her astonishment that Jennifer is actually the mother of a Russian mobster, Roman (an extraordinarily well cast Peter Dinklage), who doesn't take too kindly to his momma being locked away or having their possessions being sold off to the highest bidders.  Soon under the horrifying understanding that they picked the wrong target, Marla and Fran begin to plot a way to rid themselves of this madman for good...or risk being put six feet under if caught. 

Again, the whole premise of I CARE A LOT is bone chillingly terrifying (especially for some of us out there - myself included - that have mothers in care homes).  The manner with which Marla is able to convince those higher up than her in multiple professions that she's (a) a respectable woman meaning to do well by these elderly people and (b) will only have these peoples' best interests at heart by sending them into nursing homes is unnerving to the core.  Equally unsettling is how Marla and Fran quickly liquidate their target's homes and priceless heirlooms, thereby draining these people of everything they've ever owned in the world.  It's all enough to make one sick, really.  And Marla is indeed a sickening creature, to be sure, and a living monument to broken systems that are supposed to be in place to protect those in the winter of their lives, but instead have all but failed them because they can so easily be exploited by the wrong kind of people.  Of course, the core of the film is showing these con women get some poetic justice being fed to them in the shocking reveal of Jennifer's true identity and ties to organized crime, but the ruthless head hunter in Marla seems so stone cold in her resolve to beat these people via any means necessary that the film then becomes this enthralling battle of wills between all parties.  Roman tries as he can to get his thugs to break his mother out of the care home and is stymied multiple times because Marla is just that good and prepared.  Watching this pastry addicted mafia don lose his own grip on sanity in the process is one of the film's unexpectedly hilarious pleasures. 

Blakeson's directorial touches are assured and inspired in the way he milks this premise for all of its vicious value, but he also places a considerable amount of confidence in his actors to help lead the charge, which culminates in a few standoff sequences that are small treasure troves of performance might.  One in particular has Chris Messina show up as Roman's lawyer who makes multiple soft spoken, but frank threats to Marla to either stop her ruse...or pay the immediate consequences of it "ending badly for her."  Of course, she doesn't budge an inch and counter matches his taunts with courageous nerve.  Scenes like this really show just how utterly in command Pike is in this film: she walks this very slippery slope of making someone as amoral and cruel as Marla into a figure of rooting interest as the story progresses.  Thankfully, she never regresses to that point and instead fully harnesses the uncompromising nature of this coldly calculating sociopath that seems equal to the challenge of taking on someone as equally villainous as Roman.  And Dinklage is equally great here as well playing a character that's just as - if not more - revolting of a human being as Marla, but nevertheless is a deeply worried crime boss that just, deep down, wants his mother back safely.  He's superb at modulating between Roman's slow simmering and internalized rage and just unleashing it at any inopportune moment, usually with his underlines' feeling the burden. 

Let's also not forget about Wiest here too, who maybe has the trickiest role in initially playing Jennifer as frail casualty of horrible circumstance, but is later revealed to be smarter and more cunning than she lets on.  I CARE A LOT works best when it throws such richly compelling narrative curveballs at audience members, even when the film sometimes runs into issues of keeping all of its crazy elements together.  Blakeson struggles during the final act and in particular the ending (or in this film's case, ending on top of ending) to the point where I think the conclusion commits a couple of cop outs that would have been better served by something more ambiguous.  I think the ultimate plight of some of the characters doesn't feel as smoothly tied to the rest of the picture that build up to these points.  On top of that, there's no getting away from the fact that Marla and Roman are both abhorrent people that specialize in human misery; they're parasites that feed off of others without any remorse, and that might make the film hard to endure for some.  Still, I found I CARE A LOT to be exhilaratingly ballsy in execution, and as an ambitious minded piece that yo-yos between macabre laughs and distressing pathos with admirable smoothness it's undeniably an entertaining watch.  

It also might prompt you to seek out your own aging mothers/fathers and give them a large hug.  

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