dir: J Blakeson
This is going to blow your mind, but the main character in this film called I Care A Lot, called Marla Grayson, played by Rosemund Pike, doesn’t, actually.
This is the REALLY mindblowing part: She doesn’t care at all.
Marla is a lawyer who, through manipulating the legal system around the guardianship of oldies, and bribing the right people, forces old people into old folks homes and then drains all their assets over the years until they die penniless and alone.
Piece of work, right? And we all thought Rosemund Pike perfected playing psychopaths back in Gone Girl. Turns out there are even nastier characters for her to play in the Rosemund Pike Cinematic Universe.
At movie’s beginning, over scenes where a distraught bearded chap is trying to visit his mother in an old folks home, and being pummeled by the security, we hear in voiceover Marla tell us that this world ain’t shit, victory is for the ruthless and the weak can go fuck themselves.
This is the movie’s mission statement. It does not shy away from equating the monstrous ruthlessness of the protagonist with American late-stage capitalism, with the American Dream, with doing what people need to do not to get by but to destroy other people for shits and giggles.
Marla has a wall covered in the photos of the people for whom she has organised to be appointed as their guardian. It’s a lot of old people. It’s not really to give her a sentimental attachment to the people she gives not one fuck about. It’s to remind her of who her cash cows are. Once they die she scrunches up their photos and throws them in the trash.
While they live but are declared mentally incompetent, this set up allows her to sell their houses, drain their bank accounts, basically get them institutionalised and cut off, and make it impossible for them to leave, or for anyone related to them to help them out. It’s shocking, and bracing, and from the perspective of the people it’s happening to, I guess this is like an awful horror film, from which someone has to go to extraordinary lengths in order to beat Marla at her game.
And Marla refuses to lose at all. As supremely confident as she is, as tightly knit the alliances required to keep this working, and, in the case of the judge who seems to preside over all the cases she’s involved in who isn’t on her payroll, she has to maintain a difficult balancing act which means it’s in the judge’s best interests not to overrule his own previous decisions, lest he be revealed to be gullible / incompetent / complicit.
Structures like this, scams like this work, we are made to believe, because everyone except the victim is happy with the outcome. I don’t know if this is happening in reality, and I am ashamed to admit it wouldn’t surprise me that it’s being done by people even more morally bankrupt and vicious than Marla, since the crime of elder abuse, especially financial elder abuse if anything is becoming more prominent with each passing day.
So. We watch, when the movie begins, Marla in court destroying her opponent, being the son of one of her charges (Macon Blair, pretty much looking just like he did in Blue Ruin again, which is a bit worrying), who cannot believe what is happening, and cannot believe that the court and the judge are steadfastly on Marla’s side. Outside of the court, he abuses Marla using basic, dull misogynist language. Marla, of course, is not fazed at all. She knows, with no doubts, that she is tougher and nastier than anyone who might come up against her.
Even more so: We know she is a tough monster. For a film like this to work, to have anything else interesting to do, she has to be pitted against an even bigger monster.
For that to happen, she has to fuck up in some spectacular way, such as finding someone, a recent retiree, with no family whatsoever, with no debts outstanding, who is prime for her scam.
And she comes along, played by Dianne Wiest, and is snapped up by the process Marla has put in place, and the woman is whisked away to a care facility without being able to raise any objection whatsoever. And she’s drugged, cut off from the world, lost.
But she does have some family. A son, played by Peter Dinklage, who’s even more of a monster than Marla is.
The question then becomes not who is the biggest monster, but who is the more determined to win.
In a different flick, this could even have been a meaningless yuppie redemption story where someone awful learns to become slightly less awful by having to treat one of her victims like a human being, learning lessons about human frailty, and kindness, and helping others etc etc.
That is not what this film is about. If anything, Marla seems alive to the challenge of how to deal with a murderous crime lord who’s happy to kill his way out of any difficulties, with vast resources and with lots of goons to do his bidding.
What does Marla have? The absolutely steely determination to not be bested in any circumstance, the help of a legal system which bends the knee to her every whim, and the love and resources of a good woman, being Fran (Eiza Gonzalez), who also seems to be an ex-cop. Even when she finds out the full scale of what she’s facing, Marla doesn’t ever really seem even vaguely scared.
If anything, even when they’re trying to kill her, or her girlfriend, or anyone she’s ever met, she seems jazzed at the opportunity to show everyone else how fucking stupid they are.
I mean, Rosamund Pike is a wonder, and she attacks this role with relish, but she’s done so much evil that I was really conflicted as to who you want to see triumph in the end. Dinklage is great too, but he plays the role in two registers only: quietly confident, and angrily yelling and throwing stuff. When he orders people killed or disposed of, it’s with managerial boredom, like deciding whether a meeting should be in Conference Room A or Conference Room B. He is astounded by Marla’s brazenness, as I guess anyone would be, and he’s confused when the standard threats and actions don’t seem to work on her. You don’t really want him to win either, but it is his mum who is swallowed up by the system, and all his money and influence can’t beat Marla in the arena where her skills predominate.
So who wouldn’t want to murderise the people who stole their mum?
I can’t say that I loved the film. I watched it with interest, with curiousity. It doesn’t have the same transgressive thrill that Gone Girl did, I’m ashamed to admit, and the films don’t have anything else in common other than Pike and the fact that she’s playing a sociopath again. If anything Pike’s performance is even more accomplished here, because other than in the court room, she doesn’t have to hide her contempt for people, or cloak her nastiest tendencies. She vapes a lot, quite often to show how little regard she has for what people are saying or doing.
She is so monstrous, in fact, that it made it a bit hard for me to believe that she cared that much about Fran, her much younger partner. It’s a bit of a turn up for the books that it would be so, but consider the thousands of stories and movies where a reluctant detective tries to uncover whatever and has a “love” interest so young she’s practically an embryo.
Standard operating procedure. And I guess her performance is fine, and it’s nice that Marla cares about someone and has at least something to lose, for the other villain to threaten, it’s just that it seems at odds with her supreme maliciousness.
The story takes a bit of a turn, bit of an escalation in its last section, with Marla being able to outsmart everyone and everything, which we kinda expected anyway, before it leads to a final move, a final coup de grace that looks like it not only solves everyone’s problems, but leaves Marla as the undisputed Queen of the World of Evil.
It’s an almost unbelievable ending. Greed is Good. Evil is Great. Destroy everyone and they’ll thank you for it.
And then something and someone we forgot about from hours ago brings balance to the universe.
I didn’t love the ending, but I can see its merits. I feel sick when I think about the world Marla talks about, a world she has created, a world that exemplifies exactly the kind of coercive capitalism that we dread exists outside of the film as well, but it also left me feeling not angry, but like it was all a bit pointless in the end.
I Care A Lot could probably do with a sequel, which already has the perfect soundtrack, being We Care A Lot, where Marla’s minions put everyone in the world in an old folk’s home, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it other than praying that Peter Dinklage will come to save us.
Save us, Peter Dinklage, you’re our only hope.
7 future roles where if Rosamund Pike plays a nice person again I will assume the stabbings are about to begin out of 10
“You may be a man, but if you ever threaten, touch, or spit on me again, I will grab your dick and balls, and I will rip them clean off.” – and I have no doubt that she could do it without breaking a sweat - I Care A Lot