Plain, Simple Tom reviews . . . “I Care A Lot” (2020)

As a court appointed legal guardian, Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) really does appear to care a lot. Defending herself in court, she explains how she looks after several older people by making sure that they receive proper care and attention in a care home, dutifully watching over their finances and only drawing money when she absolutely needs to. But in reality, Marla’s no angel as what she’s really doing, alongside her partner Frances (Eiza González), is forcibly (and legally) putting the vulnerable older people into care homes while she lines her own pockets by draining their finances, taking over their homes, and selling all of their possessions. Having been given a new target, a “cherry” (a golden goose) called Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) who apparently has no family and is a potential goldmine, Marla and Frances get to work committing the unassuming Jennifer into care while they sell all of her stuff but it soon transpires that Jennifer does indeed have a son, a ruthless and dangerous criminal boss called Roman (Peter Dinklage), and he and Marla soon find themselves at war as Roman works tirelessly to free his beloved mother but Marla remains committed to holding onto her prize.

Now and again, I do enjoy a good film which primarily features character(s) who are either lacking in morals or maybe just plain evil as their central “protagonists” (features such as The Wolf of Wall Street or Night and the City come to mind here) and in films like this, when done right, we can perhaps take a certain pleasure in watching these baddies get away with murder, treating the more devilish parts of ourselves as we revel in their wickedness. I Care A Lot is a great film that has a truly deplorable and just plain evil character at the centre and, though her actions really are despicable and often had me feeling uncomfortable, wishing really hard that she would eventually get her comeuppance (heck, this scheme of bilking unaware old people may indeed happen in the real world and that’s just horrible), the film is written and directed effectively enough that having such a character at the centre works, and Rosamund Pike is just so good in the main role that it’s easy enough to follow her on her journey and to stay invested into what happens to her.

Sinking her teeth into another Gone Girl type role, Pike excels in the central role of Marla, presenting us with a true sociopath who we just love to hate. Rather than appearing obviously and outwardly evil, Marla keeps her true self hidden behind an apparently kind and caring demeanour (as well as a perfectly symmetrical haircut), able to fool the more gullible characters with precise smiles and exactly the right set of words, being a master manipulator and seeming to know most people’s weaknesses, very much like the infamous Nurse Ratched, and she really is a most intriguing and noteworthy character. With such a character, there’s always the danger that she could appear too over-the-top or just too detestable for the audience to care about but with Rosamund Pike playing the part, we are able to see just how awful she is but she’s also constantly magnetic and Pike just nails every aspect of the character, even managing to appear sympathetic as things start to go wrong for her in the middle of the film, and at the end of the day, she’s a villain who you just can’t help but take an interest in and Pike plays the ice-cold, ruthless, relentless, calculating, intimidating, and highly intelligent villain in a pitch perfect manner.

In supporting roles, Peter Dinklage is appropriately nasty and unpredictable as the other villain of the piece, though for me, he didn’t intimidate me half as much as Marla did, Eiza González proves herself to be just as cold and as ruthless as Rosamund Pike in her role of Marla’s partner in crime and she is probably the closest thing the film has to a heart as she sometimes expresses doubt over Marla’s actions and brings out her more vulnerable and caring side when things go wrong, Chris Messina is brilliantly slimy as the shady lawyer with whom Marla finds herself in battle, and Dianne Wiest is quite something as Jennifer Peterson: beginning as a victim who finds her life upended as she’s forced out of her house and is put through hell when she is committed to a care home and then robbed of her phone and pumped with all kinds of drugs, but she also shows herself to be considerably tough, wily and unforgiving when she learns that Marla is going to be targeted and takes pleasure in the idea of the tables being turned on her abuser, laying down the law with a sly smile and getting us on her side as she squares off against Marla. Wiest gives us a great supporting performance and I think the film would’ve been even better if she had been in it more – if the story had been reworked to make it more of a “battle of wills” between Pike and Wiest, having Jennifer turning the tables on Marla, even while incarcerated.

In other areas, the film is directed really well as J Blakeson gets the tonal balance just right, revelling in the unapologetic wickedness and darkness of the characters and of the story while also creating moments of conflict and even brief moments of sympathy for our main characters, and he keeps the film moving at an ideal pace – I was always invested in the story and was hardly ever bored. It’s all shot well and in particular, there are some really striking shots in the scene which features Pike and Chris Messina as the scene starts off conventionally enough but then the camera moves closer to their faces and they start to look directly towards the camera; this particularly intriguing scene just flows so well and it’s just one example that shows off the effective camerawork, direction and the performances of the central actors.

And that’s really all I have to say. I know that some people have taken against this film because they felt the characters to be too unlikeable but for me, I loved the fact that this film had the guts to primarily feature characters who are unabashedly feckless, immoral and just plain bad and as I mentioned before, it might have been a disaster in lesser hands but thanks to the knowing direction and strong performances, it really really works. Because once in a while, a shameless baddie like Marla Grayson or Jordan Belfort can make films just that little bit more tantalising and exciting.

An unabashedly dark and tantalising drama which features a roster of morally bankrupt and shameless characters, I Care A Lot succeeds thanks to its sharp script, assured direction, and a magnetic and devilish central performance from Rosamund Pike.

★ ★ ★ ★

2 thoughts on “Plain, Simple Tom reviews . . . “I Care A Lot” (2020)

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