Another offering this week that features shitty people doing shitty things to less fortunate people is writer/director J Blakeson’s I Care A Lot, in which Rosamund Pike plays professional, court-appointed guardian Marla Grayson. Grayson makes a nice living targeting rich older people and working with doctors and assisted-living facilities to force them into assisted living homes against their will, with a tweaked diagnosis from a doctor that says they can’t safely live alone or care for themselves. Grayson then proceeds to liquidate their assets, cutting herself and her co-conspirators a nice check in the process, milking those she is supposed to be protecting for all they are worth until they die. When one of her charges dies unexpectedly, the only regret she expresses is that she thought she had another 10 years to drain his finances, but now the rest of his money goes to his actual heirs.
When the film opens, Grayson is in court, a place where she feels remarkably comfortable mainly because the judge (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) thinks she’s the kindest, most compassionate human being on the planet. She’s there to defend taking a woman into her custody, selling her home, and leaving her son (Macon Blair) with no rights or way to retaliate. She takes great pride in taking him down and berates him because she thinks his rage is more about her being a woman than anything to do with his mother, truly driving the blade into the hilt. Grayson’s well-oiled machine is such a success in part to her right-hand colleague and live-in lover Fran (Eiza González), who oversees the details of the liquidations while the boss works the big picture.
It’s frightening how efficient and speedy these takedowns can be, and we see one pretty much from top to bottom in the case of a sweet and seemingly functional older woman named Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), who has a great deal of money and no living relatives—known affectionately in Grayson’s business as a “cherry.” But not long after they have her taken to a very fancy, expensive home, a shady lawyer (Chris Messina) shows up, knowing exactly what the scheme is and demanding Jennifer’s release. Grayson prides herself on never losing and she declines a generous cash offer. It turns out Jennifer does have a son, Roman (Peter Dinklage), whom she meets once a week secretly because he’s pretending to be dead after playing a key role in the Russian mob. He’s still very powerful and very dangerous but must stay hidden because he’s a wanted man. After failing to get his mother freed via the courts, Roman decides to take the more direct approach to getting her out.
What’s interesting about I Care A Lot that ultimately made me dislike it intensely is that it spends the first half of the movie successfully attempting to make us hate Grayson with a passion usually reserved for super villains. But once the tables are turned, I think there’s an actual presumption that we might start rooting for her to get out of her predicament alive. No thank you. Despite his being a killer, I felt far more for Roman and his mother, and actually wished for his plans to be successful, whether they involved Grayson living or dying. The movie literally sends up mixed signals, so when either character’s life was in danger, I was left cold and not caring about the fate of anyone in this movie. Taking full advantage of Dinklage’s ability to generate real menace on command, I at least found him the most enjoyable character by default. But at one point he even expresses interest in a joint venture with Grayson, and my empathy ended almost immediately.
There is a genuinely great movie that will likely be made one day about this type of fraud with human lives as commodity, and when someone makes it, I’ll be sure to let you know. But I Care A Lot envisions itself as some sort of grand dark comedy, with the problem being that it is neither as funny nor as clever as it thinks it is. Pike is fine, I suppose, but simply playing evil doesn’t make you a functional or fun villain. It’s just so rare that the film actually works that I basically gave up on it when it transformed from a cynical heist piece into an actual thriller, complete with car chases and action sequences. If neither half of your cinematic split-personalty work, there’s not much left.
The film is begins streaming today via Netflix.
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