Released 2020. Director: J. Blakeson
REMEMBER ROSAMUND PIKE'S COLD, CALCULATED, BLOOD-THIRSTY NIGHTMARE OF EVERY CHEATING HUSBAND in Gone Girl? In this shiny mix of black comedy and character revulsion by writer-director J. Blakeson, Rosamund looks as if she got bored terrorising Ben Affleck and stepped out to get a new hobby. Her new targets: the elderly who are not too old or sick, borderline dementia patients are ideal, but most importantly, they must have a solid nest egg.
Rosamund plays Marla Grayson, a court-appointed legal guardian of senior citizens deemed incapable of looking after their own affairs. You’d think someone like her has a heart of gold or at least a heart, but you'd be wrong. Marla is a master grifter with a talent for amassing personal wealth, a predator with zero compassion.
In cahoots with a crooked physician who signs off false declarations, Marla bamboozles a judge and gets access to the savings, properties and assets of wealthy retirees who suddenly find themselves shuffled out of their homes into a care facility and denied communication with family (for their own good, apparently). In their absence, Marla empties out the homes and bank accounts, sells the houses, pockets a handsome amount and preys on the next target.
I Care a Lot is not an indictment on the exploitation or lack of policing in the aged care system in America. It could’ve been one, but the direction Blakeson has chosen is to skim on the surface of the issue and make it purely a black comedy with violent bits. Preposterous latitude is given to the impossibly lucky Marla in her endlessly fortuitous escapes from the clutches of law and certain death.
Once again Rosamund shines when she plays a smart and contemptible character. Marla is a woman of no nonsense from head to toe. A close-up shot shows off her immaculate-trimmed hair like a glorious helmet behind which the mind of an evil genius plots her moves in lightning speed. Not only is her grooming and appearance designed for maximum effect, Marla also boasts an arsenal of vocabulary to cajole, convince, belittle and threaten in equal measure, delivered with a level of confidence to cow any experienced lawyer with the audacity to get in her way.
Unfortunately for Marla, her next victim isn’t the meek old lady she appears to be, and Marla finds herself face to face with some serious criminals with no conscience, just like herself. Is she worried? Of course not. Bring it on.
Retiree Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Weist squeezing some juice out of a limited role) looks like an easy plum target. Never married, no family, lives alone in a nice house, plenty of cash, with a daunting secret connection that would stop anyone else in their tracks but not Marla.
The plot from hereon follows a basic pattern of tit for tat. The stage is set for several rounds of WWE between Marla and an opponent half her size, a Russian mafia boss by the name of Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage, quietly menacing but no Godfather) who has no time for niceties and games.
Totally unfazed and not a hair out of place, Marla rolls up her sleeves for the fight of her life. Even though Marla endures being captured, bound, drugged and strapped in a runaway car plunging into a lake, she makes it out not only alive but already hatching a return from the grave while she’s still dripping wet staggering into a service station.
Blakeson is manifestly not interested in subjecting Marla to a dark, terrorised situation for character study into any vulnerabilities, simply because Marla has no weaknesses. How she manages to get out of tight spots alive (losing a tooth, granted), get home to resuscitate her partner before their apartment blows up, glide smoothly into place at the right time to overcome Roman’s henchmen and abduct the man is something he expects us to accept and go along with it.
The way Marla’s character is sketched, it’s ambiguous whether we should cheer her on or swear at her. Marla goes on to bigger and bolder schemes, her empire flourishes as she continues to build a mountain of wealth off the life savings of countless old men and women now left with nothing. But somehow Marla must pay a price, otherwise the movie would end up peddling a dubious message.
Watching I Care a Lot is watching vile people do nasty things to each other. Not a single character in this movie shows any redeeming quality. I’m sure there are people in the audience appalled by Marla’s actions and wish her dead, probably even siding with the murderous Russian mobster and feel absolutely fine with it. Blakeson brings so much vigour and gloss into the fight he gives you two hours of lively entertainment, even though they are despicable people who don’t deserve your sympathy.
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