The Gone Girl actor gets her best role in years as a monstrous scam artist in this sharp and riotous satire from director J Blakeson
All it takes is a flick of the hair. From the moment you first see I Care a Lot’s “heroine” Marla Grayson adjusting her unnaturally perfect hair, you know you’re dealing with a monster. Marla is a superb character, drawn in intricate detail by writer-director J Blakeson and brought to life by Rosamund Pike’s best performance since Gone Girl, an all-too-American psycho who powers this sharp, scathing, and absolutely thrilling satire.
Marla is a court-appointed legal guardian, sent in by the state to take care of elderly or otherwise vulnerable people if they’re deemed a hazard to themselves. Armed with this power and trust, she targets wealthy old people who don’t actually need any help, having an unscrupulous doctor friend make up some dementia symptoms before calling an emergency hearing to have them put in her car – mostly against their will. From there, she ships them off to a care home, cuts them off from any remaining family, and sells their assets for a tidy profit.
It’s a truly evil scam, and I Care a Lot never tries to redeem Marla or make her into a likeable anti-hero. Instead, Blakeson uses her moral bankruptcy to set up a wildly entertaining and unpredictable cat-and-mouse plot in which Marla’s latest “client,” retired financier Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) turns out to be connected to the Russian mafia, fronted by shrewd businessman Roman (Peter Dinklage). With no one “good” to root for, I Care A Lot can commit to a constant barrage of laughs and thrills as two monsters go to war, allowing the audience to relish in the havoc they wreak upon each other’s lives.
Integral to the success of the “no heroes” gambit is Pike’s performance, and she’s brilliant, erasing her recent stumbles in misfires like A Private War or Radioactive with a fearless display that sends an Arctic chill through every scene, warming up only when Marla’s alone with her girlfriend and business partner Fran (Eiza Gonzalez). In one particularly brilliant moment, Marla is approached by Roman’s menacing lawyer Dean (Chris Messina), and the subsequent attempt to suss each other out and threaten each other without ever dropping a façade of politeness is both very funny and magnetically exciting. It’s like you’re getting to watch two malevolent AIs trying to pass as human through a filter of uniquely American litigiousness. In a sublime little detail, Blakeson adds to Marla’s inhumanity by having her constantly exhale vape fumes without showing her taking a hit, so she’s suddenly blowing smoke as if she’s some sort of frozen dragon.
As a thriller, I Care A Lot is captivating. As a social commentary, it’s downright infuriating, giving an, admittedly heightened, insight into America’s inept and cruel attempts to marry a punitive justice system with care work. Even though Jennifer turns out to be far from what she seems, Marla and Fran’s process of gutting her life for a quick buck is still sickening, and the idea of a court-appointed stranger showing up to essentially kidnap your older relatives is terrifying.
To keep up this rage while also making popcorn entertainment is a tough balancing act, but Blakeson never puts a foot wrong, sticking the landing with the most cathartic, honest finale imaginable. It’s one of the smartest recent American satires, stingingly insightful on the ways in which American capitalism and governmental ineptitude both enables and rewards money-grubbing sociopathy but never lets its winking cleverness get in the way of a tightly-wound plot.
I Care a Lot is available on Amazon Prime Video from 19 February.Where to watch