A woman uses the legal system to strip elderly people of their assets – until she becomes guardian to one woman with some scary associates.
I Care A Lot shows how capitalism is now so venal it’s actually easier to stay within the law than break it when screwing people over to make your fortune, as business and the state cheer you on.
Under J Blakeson’s direction the film charges along, part extremely worrying fact (the guardianship system in the US, which here looks shockingly easy to manipulate, can indeed be misused) and part glorious silliness (despite everyone’s elegance and the sometimes bloody consequences, there’s an almost cartoonish vibe to people’s responses).
Legal conwoman Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) makes a very good living finding well-off elderly people and having herself declared their legal guardian, whether they want it or not. Then it’s off to the care home they go, with Marla creaming off money in fees at every stage. She doesn’t want them to die, as the cash cow dies with them, though the early death of one of her wards lays bare how many people in the elderly care sector in her town are in on this: care home owners, doctors, and others. (The doctor involved still has an ethical line they won’t cross – it’s just moved.)
Marla and girlfriend Fran (Eiza González) are always looking for the next victim, and they think they’ve got it made with “cherry” Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest): wealthy, single, childless, retired and with slight memory loss. Soon Marla and a compliant doctor are having a friendly judge declare Jennifer Marla’s ward without her even knowing. It’s only when Marla appears at the door of her large, well-kept home with police back-up to take her to a care home that Jennifer even hears about it.
Unfortunately for Marla, Jennifer is somehow connected to a vicious Russian gang boss (Peter Dinklage), and he’s determined to get her out of the home (to tell you his name and their connection would spoil the fun of that first viewing but I’ve written a very spoilery article here if you just can’t wait). You’d think extricating her would be easy – a very rich man with access to lawyers on one side of the law and thugs on the other – but the world appears to be on Marla’s side.
Both gang boss and Marla care a lot about money, and one key relationship in their lives (Jennifer and Fran respectively). Though increasingly they discover they also care about the game they find themselves in – and it’s Marla who shows herself to be far more adept when faced with a new set of dangers.
The battle of wills that ensues between the two would have been easily solved with a couple of guns, but that wouldn’t have made nearly such a gloriously dark crime caper.
I Care A Lot brims over with black humour as two horrible people, having used up their weapons of choice, have to delve into dusty armouries to bring each other down. Both discover that fulfilment comes as much from the game as the prize, and neither is prepared to retreat.
Actually every character is awful – you can put aside any sympathies now and just enjoy the journey (the denouement, until the very last scene, is less interesting though in its own way, terrifying).
Even Mr Feldstrom (Macon Blair), the loving son desperately trying to see his mother in her care home at the film’s opening, who takes Marla to court, is quickly turned into a monster. After losing the case, he accosts Marla outside the courthouse and tells her he’d like her to be raped and murdered. She responds with an offer to pull his dick off, though it’s not quite enough to turn her into a feminist icon.
The only one to arouse any sympathy in me was Marla’s girlfriend Fran, though I don’t know why as she’s in on the scam too. Maybe it’s not just that I liked her cute, relaxed outfits, but that I thought I could get away with them; unlike Marla, the gangster and his lawyer Dean Ericson, whose clothes-as-weaponry are all sharp enough to cut your head off.
Marla herself is usually in one colour, and it’s usually form-fitting. Her blonde bob is probably sharp enough to accidentally decapitate herself if she swung her head too fast. Ericson (Chris Messina) favours showy suits with tie chains. His meeting with the perfect Marla in her office – flashy precision meeting its elegant equivalent, in the first legal step to try to extricate Jennifer from her care home prison – is as befuddling to him as the forced sedatives are to Jennifer. He, like his boss, simply doesn’t know how to play her, and Marla sees the increasingly hot water she’s got herself into as mostly a challenge.
Pike is mesmerising, bringing life and motivation to a character who could easily just be a one-dimensional monster. She’s still a monster but one I could root for, if only when it looked like she was about to die.
She and gang boss make a fun pairing but the more fascinating relationship is that between ward and guardian, even though it sadly fizzles out. Marla is used to elderly people who, if they don’t start off compliant, are soon drugged that way, their angry offspring pushed down by the court system. She’s not accustomed to the Jennifers of this world, even though she herself points out to Fran that “even sadistic immoral assholes get old”. Still, though Marla may be surprised by Jennifer calling her a c***, she’s quickly happy to work on Jennifer’s level.
In a film that highlights legalised elder abuse, Wiest is on great form as a woman who turns the usual old lady stereotype on its head. Jennifer is an immoral asshole too, and possibly a sadistic one, her real personality fighting through even when drugged and captive.
Dinklage is terrific as the gangster who considers himself a cut above your average rich thug, but don’t they all. And that same old hubris, combined with a newfound love of the game, leaves him massively vulnerable.
I Care A Lot is on Netflix in the US and on Amazon Prime in the UK
Watch the trailer now: