I Care a Lot is a film with a masterful premise, a first-rate cast, a suitably unnerving score, and just a few too many implausibilities to be spectacular.
The story follows the Machiavellian and morally bankrupt Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike), a ruthless con woman with a bleached Pan Am smile and a highly versatile wardrobe. Together with a corrupt doctor, a seedy care-home manager, and her partner-cum-lover, Fran (Eliza González), Marla spends her days convincing gullible judges that mentally sound pensioners are no longer suited to taking care of themselves. The judge appoints Marla as their legal guardian, after which she drugs them, puts them in a crooked care home, and proceeds to sells their assets. For her, this is simply part of the natural order of things, and she is having a good time of it. That is, until she exploits the wrong old lady; the self-proclaimed “worst mistake you’ll ever make.”
Rosamund Pike plays the part of Marla Grayson with the dead-eyed charm of a sociopath. Watching her switch from dewy-eyed do-gooder to unfeeling sadist is a Nortonian masterclass in manipulation. Her believability is almost at odds with the tongue-in-cheek quality that the film tries to maintain.
Peter Dinklage is less convincing as Russian mob boss and mummy’s boy, Roman Lunyov. This is not only because his real New Jersey accent seems somehow more contrived than his King’s Landing lilt. Playing the absurdly volatile comic book villain, Dinklage struggles to bring much to the role. His performance blurs between soppy sentimentalism for his mother’s plight, and bursts of unconstrained rage. It’s something we’ve seen before. As Jennifer “the worst mistake you’ll ever make” Pieterson, Dianne Wiest portrays a progressively menacing innocent old lady, as Marla tries to uncover how she came to be in possession of millions of dollars’ worth of uncut diamonds.
If I Care a Lot is fun, it is rather pointedly so, in an aren’t we having fun kind of way- and I suppose we are. The film’s rapid pace is set early, and maintained throughout. Yet at times, it felt like plot progression was being lazily undercut by a series of unlikely escalations, that saw the protagonists lose their grip on events. Intermittently, the writers half-heartedly dip into social commentary, with uniquely uninsightful observations like “Playing fair is a joke, invented by rich people to keep the rest of us poor.” Two hours of Marla’s dog-eat-dog philosophy becomes a bit boring, especially as it’s revealed that she’s not a merciless businesswoman, but a simple maniac.
As enjoyable as they are, numerous moments conspire to break believability. These include, but are not limited to, the Russian mob boss who doesn’t use torture, the unregulated care home that imprisons and abuses its residents, the all-American Russian mafia, the death-threats issuing lawyer (if you’re going to make death threats, why send a lawyer?), and the untrained con-woman who can behave like trained Spetsnaz when wronged. But who cares about all that!
If real life’s your scene, then go and watch the news- and be warned, it’s nowhere near as entertaining. Pike’s performance largely carries this invigorating experience, but she is well-supported by a solid cast, creative camerawork, and an idea that is too good to fall flat. I enjoyed this one a lot, and I think you will too.
Image: David Alexander Elder via Flickr