Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) has developed the perfect grift. The I Care A Lot “protagonist” has become the legal guardian to dozens of elderly people. Through a series of convenient relationships with doctors, elder-care facility officials, and judges, Marla has discovered that a relatively healthy elderly person can prove to be quite lucrative. She liquidates their assets, “tends” to their affairs, and gets very rich in the process. An apex predator, she is also an evil person.
In the opening scenes of Netflix’s I Care A Lot, written and directed with vicious glee by J Blakeson (The 5th Wave), Marla (Rosamund Pike) and her lover/partner Fran (Eiza González) identify the perfect mark, a “cherry.” To Marla, a “cherry” is an elderly person with no family members, well-off, and able to stay alive long enough to be milked for a small fortune. This perfect mark is Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest).
From this point forward, I expected the plot to be a bit of a wrongfully-imprisoned woman and the arduous path toward final justice. I was wrong. I Care A Lot is much less interested in a grounded story of corruption in elder-care than it is in the machinations of evil people sparring for power. I will not spoil the many twists and turns that Blakeson’s script takes, but suffice it to say, the journey is much more fun that one might expect.
I Care A Lot pulls off a very difficult trick in that Marla is both hateable, yet somehow we as audience members still find ourselves , to some degree, rooting for her. It’s much like the audience relationship we had toward Walter White in Breaking Bad. This trick is achieved in a couple of key ways.
First, the tone and momentum of the script, as well as the cinematography and soundtrack, is slick, glittering, feeling almost like an Ocean’s Eleven heist movie. But, under that shiny surface, there is always the threat of real violence, real consequences.
Second, Blakeson knows he has some powerhouse actors at his disposal and he unleashes them, letting them chew the scenery appropriately, but never letting their performances get too cartoonish. Wiest is both the kindly elderly woman, but, when she needs to be, something completely different. Peter Dinklage as Roman (I won’t spoil how he is part of this story) is at his most menacing, but he always has the glint of the humor he brought to Game of Thrones. He knows he’s playing a certain type of villain, and he’s willing to own it, fully.
But, make no mistake, this movie is owned by Rosamund Pike. Marla is a true icon of smiling evil, as portrayed by Pike. Marla is ruthless, brash, harsh haircuts and power-suits, and always thinking a move ahead of her competition. But, wisely, Blakeson’s script, gives Marla’s character enough moments of humanity and weakness that we are allowed to see her as a full person. We are lulled into a sense that maybe, just maybe, she’ll come around and do something for the greater good.
Ultimately, whether or not one will enjoy I Care A Lot will depend upon whether he or she can find entertainment in watching mostly bad people doing bad things. There is a sufficient level of humor and satire amid the evil acts to keep many entertained, but some will certainly find nothing good to hold onto. If a morally secure movie landscape is more your speed, look elsewhere. But if watching Dinklage and Pike stare each other down like two hungry sharks appeals to you, dive in, the water is warm.
Check out our latest Find Your Film podcast as we review Sator, Cowboys, The World to Come and The Au Pair Nightmare:
****A new episode of Find Your Film comes out later this week, and we will do a separte audio track discussing I Care A Lot spoilers.