I Care A Lot: Intriguing thriller starts strong but falls on its arse

Rosamund Pike is a natural when it comes to being terrifying. I certainly give commendation to her range, given her ability to skilfully traverse divergent territory. She made her debut as a bad-girl MI6 agent opposite Brosnan’s 007 in Die Another Day, subsequently cropping up solidly in an abundance of comedies, thrillers and romantic dramas before scaring everybody shitless as Amy Dunne in Gone Girl. Trust me, it’s not my intention to detract from her work as badass foreign correspondent Marie Colvin in A Private War, the inaugural First Lady of Botswana Ruth Williams Khama in A United Kingdom or traumatised homesteader Rosalee Quaid in Hostiles, all of these performances are distinct and robust additions to a layered career. But, if we’re being honest with ourselves, how many people think about Pike without Fincher’s deliciously horrific psychological thriller flashing its scarring imagery in one’s brain? I’m sure the lady herself is lovely, but the way she is able to drain every iota of normative human emotion from her face and replace it with something forced and calculating, I’ll tell ya, it really gives me the creeps. And I think that’s awesome.

Once again utilising this wonderfully unnerving aptitude for acting like a diagnosable psychopath, Pike is front and centre as the focal predator in J Blakeson’s third feature-length effort I Care A Lot. A boldly plotted comedy-thriller with a premise that is sure to turn many people off at the outset, it teases the viewer with adroit style and sharp developments before sadly petering out into nonsense.

Marla Grayson (Pike) is a special kind of arsehole. A court-appointed legal guardian for vulnerable senior citizens, Marla places her wards in care homes before overseeing a ban on their loved ones contacting them and taking complete control of their finances, selling their homes and assets to line her pockets. The head of a corrupt network that includes care home managers, physicians and her professional & romantic partner Fran (Eiza Gonzalez), Marla regularly stands before traumatised relatives and suspicious lawyers in court, wooing the judge with her butter-wouldn’t-melt demeanour and successfully snaring another hapless elderly person into her malevolent dominion. ‘Detestable’ would be a galactic understatement.

Marla’s latest cash-cow, secured via one of her crooked healthcare contacts, is one Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest). Long retired and living on her own, Jennifer has no known relatives and is revealed to be sitting on a veritable shitload of money. Engineering an emergency hearing with the world’s most idiotically naive judge (Isiah Whitlock Jr), Marla obtains a court order for Ms. Peterson’s transfer to assisted living and gets to work bilking the poor woman for everything she’s got. But there’s something that our monstrous anti-heroine could never have anticipated about her latest mark.

Far from an isolated nobody, Jennifer happens to be a very important person to some very dangerous people. I won’t say too much about these folks, other than that they’re tied to organised crime, deeply unpleasant and led by Peter Dinklage. As Marla’s carefully coordinated scam is besieged by Jennifer’s powerful and aggressive acquaintances, the heartless con-woman starts to wonder if she’s bitten off a hell of a lot more than she can chew. Seeing as she’s irredeemably greedy and cruel, one can only hope that she’s in the hottest water she’ll ever be in.

Shall we start with the positives? The film looks and sounds great. Marc Canham provides a rich and addictive score that is brimming with all the best energy of 80s style synth-wave, a vibrant sheen that is very well complemented by the dynamic colour palette and tension-building eye of cinematographer Doug Emmett. Pike does a splendid job of leading the cast, her vile ringleader strongly supported by the likes of Gonzalez, Alicia Witt, Damian Young and Dinklage (it’s also pretty nice to see Dianne ‘Everyone’s mum in the 1980s’ Wiest in an effectively counterintuitive performance). The humour is a delightful mix of deadpan viciousness and Coenesque quirks, and the fact that there isn’t one morally astute character in the entire piece helps to foment a bright and nasty atmosphere of snowballing conundrums as we sit on the edge of our seats, wondering if Marla will receive some novel comeuppance for her dastardly deeds.

Alas, nothing lasts forever. What begins life as a strongly paced, amusing, original and ”deliciously nasty” work, as Matt Goldberg of Collider put it, collapses under its own weight around the 80-minute mark. The script completely loses its shit with regards to character motivations and capabilities, to the extent that the third act bears virtually no resemblance to everything that has preceded it. What should have remained a brutally clever satire devolves into a completely unrealistic and lazily written action thriller, complete with rote and sophomoric musings about ‘Girl Power’. I find it utterly amazing that something with such an imaginative premise that cooks at just the right temperature for 1hr and 20-minutes could go so totally off the boil for the remaining 40, and it leaves a bad taste in the mouth that one of the film’s seemingly un-ironic sentiments is ‘Look, tons of men are horrible dickheads, ergo women being horrible dickheads is A-OK’. Marla is a piece of shit, and the fact that the movie is confused about whether or not the viewer should root for her is horrendously sloppy at best, deeply concerning at worst.

I would say see it for the cast, the visuals and the soundtrack, but then you’ll just be on the receiving end of an unkept promise. Sitting on the right path of delivering a strange and intelligent pitch-black comedy with substantive commentary on the woeful state of eldercare, I Care A Lot ends up being just another misguided and shallow venture that ultimately squanders the talents of its cast by placing in them in something that could drop the ball so mind-numbingly. Even more shocking is the fact that Blakeson’s debut as writer-director, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, is a uniformly strong work with great pacing, believable twists and a resolution that doesn’t break the spell, and his name (in conjunction with the film’s premise) is one of the reasons I was considerably psyched. To no avail, I’m afraid.

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