A perfectly paced tale of bad-meets-worse, where you're rooting for both of the criminals. The only question is which one will ultimately come out on top.
- 🏥 A brilliant cast with Pike, Dinklage, Weist and Gonzalez.
- 🏥 The pacing distracts from the awfulness of what they're doing.
- 🏥 That one final twist.
- 🏥 You'll feel bad for feeling so good about this one.
This review has some spoilers for I Care A Lot. Because if you're going to write about a movie, you're going to have to write about what's in the movie. You have been warned.
There's just something about Rosamund Pike in an American accent. It's too good. Too proper. Too perfect. Like it's overcompensating.
That is, of course, the point for Pike's Marla Grayson in the Netflix film I Care A Lot (opens in new tab). Grayson is a court-appointed guardian who is scamming anyone and anything, using the system in the way it was intended — but also abusing it in exactly the same way. And you cover that up with confidence and competence. Marla is good at caring for people. Too good.
Here's the play: Marla gets a doctor to swear that a patient is no longer able to care for themself. An overworked judge agree and assigns Marla as the person's guardian. Court order in hand, Marla swoops in and sends grandma or grandpa off to the care home (which is more locked down than any assisted-living facility I've seen in the past few years, and I've seen a few), and Marla gets to liquidate the mark's assets to pay for everything. And to pay herself and her cronies, of course.
Eat, sleep, scam, repeat.
It sounds awful, and it is awful. And Pike as Marla makes it wonderful to see. She is as stunning and conniving and as convincing as she was in Gone Girl. But this time she has a better, deeper cast beside her — as well as coming for her.
I Care A Lot begins with a lot of exposition. And that's fine, because that perfect American accent just sucks you right in. You could listen to Marla explain her crimes all day long, lining up what she does, how she does it, and the small cast of characters she enlists to get it done. (And you get the feeling there are others should this group not be able to deliver.)
It starts with Dr. Amos (Alicia Witt), who's more than willing to commit a crime and destroy the life of a patient. Then there's Judge Lomax (Isiah Whitlock Jr. in his first piece since the excellent Da 5 Bloods (opens in new tab)), who's just churning through the cases as one does. He's not actually complicit in anything other than trusting the people he's supposed to trust. (Though as someone who's tangentially been around the court system his entire life, I really have to throw up a red flag here. Someone somewhere would have said something at some point, never mind the crushing caseload.) There's the administrator of the assistant living facility, which has a surprising number of locked doors and armed guards to keep anyone from leaving — or from nosy family members from getting in.
That last part bookends the film, so pay attention.
One of Marla's wards (as in person she's taking care of — like how Robin was Batman's young ward, which sounds even more creepy in this context) unexpectedly dies, so there's now an empty bed in the assisted living facility, and in Marla's revenue stream. So the machine goes into motion. Dr. Amos offers up an old woman with no apparent family. The care facility administrator Sam Rice (Damian Young) keeps a bed open for $2,000 a week — "you're not the only game in town," he tells Marla. "There's a waiting list. If you don't pay, someone else will." Judge Lomax sees all the boxes checked — just as they always are — and then it's time to ship Ms. Peterson off to the old-folks home.
It's not quite that automatic — Marla doesn't just run the scam on anyone before checking them out first. Due diligence is important when you're ruining lives and profiting off the destruction. And for that, she turns to her partner in life and in crime, Fran. (The always excellent Eiza Gonzalez.) Fran has incredible hair. That's neither here nor there, but it has to be mentioned. It's as perfectly wild as Marla's is perfectly severe. You immediately can tell that this is pair that's going to get what they want, once they decide to pull the proverbial trigger.
There's just one problem, though. Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Weist, as good as ever) is in lockdown, much to the surprise of the surfer-looking cab driver who shows up at her house one day and finds Fran emptying the place out for auction. Our cabbie Alexi Ignatyev (Nicholas Logan) is in the employ of one Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage), who is a not-to-be-trifled-with Russian mobster. Roman is a spitting image of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey — whether intentional or not, it's hilarious to anyone who's ever seen Dorsey. We mostly see Roman trying his best to stay calm, which is the sort of thing you also have to imagine the CEO Who Destroyed Democracy (one of them, anyway) also spends a lot of time attempting.
Plus, the beard.
Anyway. Jennifer missed her meeting with Roman, and that's a problem. Because one's mother does not simply miss a clandestine meeting with one's gangster son. And that's where things start to fall apart for Marla and Fran. It's one of those unstoppable force-versus-immovable object situations, and it's a highly entertaining chess match. But unlike in The Queen's Gambit (opens in new tab), this match is far more kinetic, with bullets and beatings and more than a few murders.
Marla and Roman go back and forth a few times, with a great deal of collateral damage on both sides. It's almost like watching two world-class tennis players battling it out for hours. It's painful. It's dirty. But someone is going to win. Someone has to win. And on any given day it could be either one of them. That's great for the spectators, and in I Care A Lot it's great for us as the viewer. And at the end of the film, Roman persuades Marla to form a mixed doubles team and dominate together. They don't have like each other, and it doesn't even change everything that just happened. But there's also no denying that the two of them together, beating up on everyone else, will be far more lucrative for everyone.
And it is. We get a montage of just how great things are going.
But crime is still crime, and eventually it catches up with you. Sometimes it's a broken taillight that does you in. And sometimes it's the son who just wanted to see his mother. It maybe doesn't change the way you would have done anything — and it doesn't change the spoils that went to the victor. But life as we know it can quickly come to a sudden stop, just like it did for all of Marla's victims.