There’s a real joy to be found when a screenplay can take a dire scenario and make it into a darkly funny caper. I Care a Lot is a thriller with the sort of devil-may-care attitude that works as long as the filmmakers show trust in the audience to go along with them. Featuring a strong performance from Rosamund Pike, who channels the sociopathic iciness that earned her an Oscar nomination for Gone Girl, this is a film that turns the dial in a similar direction for the sake of something more in line with the crime comedies stemming from ways that use the system to feed one’s greed, in addition to empowerment.
Pike stars as Marla Grayson, a professional court-appointed legal guardian who is running a successful scam involving her elderly clients. With help from a doctor (Alicia Witt), Marla and her partner Fran (Eiza Gonzalez) are clued in on ailing older folks who would “benefit” from being placed into a retirement home. Once relocated, Marla can control all aspects of their lives – specifically anything involving their financials. However, things become exponentially more complicated when their latest client, Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), turns out to have connections placing Marla in the crosshairs of very bad people.
I Care a Lot comes from writer-director J Blakeson, who puts viewers on a ride with this film. Thanks to an extended amount of time setting up Marla, her business, and the initial situation with Wiest’s Peterson, one could initially believe this film to be a satire. There’s enough dark comedy taking place to fuel the idea of a confident woman gaming the courts in such a way that these terrible actions would eventually creep over into commentary on the justice system. With so many different people assisting Marla in her schemes, this is a confidence game fun enough to play along with, even while recognizing how awful these people are.
However, the other shoe eventually drops, and the film peels back layers revealing what’s really going on with Wiest’s character. While it’s a shame Wiest isn’t actually given a lot to do, as the two-time Oscar-winner is quite capable of running laps around most of this cast, the arrival of Peter Dinklage’s crime boss character, and Chris Messina’s impeccably dressed smarmy lawyer take the film into a different level. The movie is no less humorous, but now features an added sense of danger.
One can’t help but be reminded of some ensemble crime films from the 2000s, similarly laced with humor. Matthew Vaughn’s Layer Cake, in particular, comes to mind. That said, while that film, which featured a pre-James Bond Daniel Craig, wanted to get by on its excess of style, I Care a Lot is far more reliant on the skills of a former Bond girl. Pike goes toe-to-toe with Dinklage and Messina in verbal sparring matches, allowing the film to effectively simmer with tension. It’s these moments where the film shines brightest, as the characters can show the wheels turning in their heads, while also trying not to reveal their hand to their opponent.
When sudden bursts of action occurred, I was less amused. Although, I did enjoy how Blakeson seemed to approach the film from the perspective of constantly cornering Marla, leading to some creative ways to move her out of immediate danger. That’s the sort of thriller material I can imagine makes for great airplane novels, let alone films that really know how to hinge key plot beats on a level of suspense. That in mind, there is only so much to get out of this story when it comes to a movie stacking its latter half with twists, let alone some moralizing, as if an audience needs some form of relatability to better deal with the characters they are following.
To be fair, I Care a Lot doesn’t try to sit anyone down and preach at them. This is a film meant to be enjoyed for all the ways we can see bad people act terribly. Even Marla’s backstory is mostly withheld, leading us to believe she’s moved on from previous discretions and developed a new version of herself, whose sole goal is to win and tear apart anyone who gets in her way. Of course, when you make a film focused on anti-heroes, finding a proper out means either making some concessions or going headfirst into the deep end of the black hole of a soul we are supposed to think best describes these characters.
I found I Care a Lot to be a film wanting to have it both ways, letting justice prevail in some sense while resolving the various plot machinations in a manner that is emotionally satisfying for the central characters. It ultimately puts the film in a position where it can’t entirely support all that it is trying to juggle, but while I was on this twisty ride, I cared a good deal.