A scammer of elderly people meets her match when she cons a mob boss' mother.
Directed by J Blakeson
Starring Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, and Dianne Wiest
Review by Jon Kissel
Marla meets her match when she goes after the wrong old lady. The ostensibly childless and wealthy Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) falls into Marla’s orbit, but she in fact has a mobbed-up son in Peter Dinklage’s Roman Lunyov, a man who doesn’t take kindly to his mother being looted, drugged up, and locked away. Marla keeps pictures of her ‘clients’ on her wall with specially coded stickers under each of them, and in a mirroring of protagonist and antagonist, Roman is presented a stack of Polaroids from one of his goons of all the women he’s trafficking. Both he and Marla have a willingness to trade in human lives, though one quickly gets the impression that Roman’s looser with the limits of what he’s willing to do. Marla refuses to walk away when Roman turns the heat up, not when this big of a potential payday is on the line, and their standoff escalates with asphyxiation, poison darts, and knocked out teeth.
I Care a Lot quickly reveals the entirety of Marla’s scam and I kept waiting for Blakeson to make futile attempts at softening her character. A complete unwillingness to do so would’ve earned the film a lot of effort points, but Blakeson can’t quite help himself. The romance between Marla and her partner Fran (Eiza Gonzalez) is earnest and affectionate, and while the film threatens both of their lives, it doesn’t threaten the relationship. Marla is clearly capable of love, which in turn serves to make her ruthlessness that much more disgusting. Setting up Roman as another exploiter of human beings also puts Marla in relief as perhaps the lesser of two evils. It’s one thing to vaguely understand that he’s a mob boss, and it’s another to know exactly what kind of mob boss he is. Speaking of bosses, the most noxious kind of attempted sympathy would’ve been cheap girlboss pandering. While the film doesn’t engage in that, it does keep shaming men who strike Marla, of which there are several. The film isn’t much deeper than ‘women can be terrible, too,’ but that difference between the genders persists even when Marla is behaving like the monster that she is. When that monster is female, the taboo against violence can’t help but humanize her. These attempts are all more mild and subtle than I expected them to be, and I have to admire Blakeson’s resistance to cheap sympathy plays.
With a handful of credits to his name, this is Blakeson’s largest project to date and based on his output, I believe he’s got a great movie in his future. His casting here is strong, with each main actor given opportunity for standout scenes. Wiest is a favorite of mine, and her loopy unhinged warnings are a delight. Dinklage is doing a lot of work with the tics in his face, and while that might annoy me with a different actor, he’s having too much fun to be irritating. Pike is playing very close to her iconic Gone Girl role, only more severe and less aggrieved. Chris Messina is perfectly cast as a flashy lawyer who meets his match in Marla. On the cinematic front, Blakeson creates a multifaceted tone depending on who has the perspective. For Marla, this is an ascendant story of perseverance but Jennifer’s in a visceral horror film, and Blakeson conveys the antithetical tones with ease.
More than the film itself, I admire I Care a Lot for its bravado. If I thought the film had respect for Marla’s vision or her determination, I would say as much and dock it accordingly, but I think it has exactly the kind of disdain for her that the viewer does. She’s an Elizabeth Holmes-level alien, unknowable in her brazen scheme to corrupt the very brain chemistry of her prey. Her ultimate fate isn’t so cathartic as to make the prior couple hours satisfying, and there’s not really any satire or commentary to be had that hasn’t been sharper in other films, but just the fact of I Care a Lot existence earns some level of adulation. C+