Some of the best dark comedies are pitch black and the new film I Care a Lot from director J Blakeson is the blackest of dark. You find yourself openly rooting for all these terrible humans but because they are played with such aplomb by Rosamund Pike, Dianne Wiest, Peter Dinklage, Eiza Gonzalez and Chris Messina.
Pike stars as Marla Grayson, a professional guardian appointed by the state to take care of elderly citizens who can no longer care for themselves. Actually, this is her scam. She has a doctor on the inside (Alicia Witt) who medically declares these people as unwell, allowing Marla to take ownership of their lives, stash them in a nursing home and sell all their stuff for profit. Marla has a whole wall full of victims who’s coffers line her pockets.
Business is booming when the doctor calls with a “cherry” of a client. Jennifer Peterson (Wiest) lives alone, is very wealthy, has no family and has shown some small memory loss. One doctor’s note and an emergency court order later, Jennifer is Marla’s property and Jennifer’s property is now Marla’s. Everything is gravy until it is revealed that Jennifer does have family in the form of a quick-tempered Russian mafioso named Roman (Dinklage). Roman sends a lawyer (Messina) to negotiate on his mother’s behalf, but Marla isn’t having it.
And so goes the cat and mouse of tactics played by Roman and Marla, escalating with court orders and violent confrontations. Marla is never repentant and never apologizes to anyone for how she acts. An opening voice-over by Marla states her worldview. There are no good people, only bad people who will take advantage of the system they are in, or will be taken advantage of it.
The only bit of humanity we get is Marla’s seemingly authentic love for her girlfriend Fran (Gonzalez). Outside of that relationship, she is a complete sociopath. Likewise, Roman is presented as completely amoral; boasting of burying a woman under a Jimmy Johns and trafficking in prostitutes. His only authentic love is the one for his mother. Marla wants to get to a point of power, where Roman is already there.
In the middle is Peterson, who Wiest plays slowly but with great payoff. The film parlays Jennifer’s move to a home with the whiplash effect that she herself would have. Three minutes after we first hear her speak, she is in a room with her phone taken away. As the film progresses, Wiest turns her on the wickedness and plays a surprising foil to Pike’s insistence.
Dinklage also gets his own chance to shine. The greatest trick the film pulls is never mentioning or even passingly referencing Roman’s stature. He is a terrifying man regardless of how big he is and it’s nice to see a role worthy of Dinklage’s immense talents. Messina also gets a few showy scenes to ratchet up the intensity while sporting a hilariously terrible Foghorn Leghorn suit in court.
Pike commands the screen and recalls her similar persona in Gone Girl. Despite appearing to have much more fun on this film, her cunning and calculated risks captivate you from the opening moments. At no point does she feel out of control and she makes her motivations crystal clear. It is nice to have a filmmaker give Pike a role she deserves as no one can figure out what to do with her since her Oscar nomination. I’m jokingly concerned with how well Pike portrays a sociopath.
Alright, let’s talk about the ending. SPOILERS AHEAD…
The film climaxes with Marla getting the better of Roman, leading to a lucrative business partnership in nationwide guardianship. She is wealthy, happy and only destined for more greatness. Suddenly, a man (Macon Blair) who’s mother was one of Marla’s victims, shoots Marla, who promptly dies in Fran’s arms.
The preceding two hours have firmly established Marla as the anti-hero or the outright villain. Once she is killed, the audience is let off the hook. Either you have seen the villain get what she deserves, or you feel better cheering for someone who is unrepentant and is succeeding. If the film had the balls to let Marla live, your own viewpoint of the film is challenged. The questions that arise become much more complex. Instead, Blakeson pulls a Deus ex Machina and kills her to make you feel better.
The film moves like a shark and with as much deadly force. Blakeson has taken a great step up from his previous directorial efforts and more than anything, he provides great performers like Pike, Wiest and Dinklage with room to perform.
This is an entirely different review if that ending was different.