I Care a Lot is largely founded on cheap rhetoric, a film that hints at interesting ideas but which ultimately pulls its punches.
Those searching for a scathing indictment of the power-hungry 1% would be wise to look elsewhere than J Blakeson’s twisty thriller I Care a Lot. Opening with voiceover narration that contains would-be barbed musings — “Playing fair is a joke created by rich people to keep the rest of us poor” — it’s only fair to expect what follows to be a rollicking tale of wish-fulfillment caste inversion, wherein working-class folks finally score a victory and the wealthy elite are delivered some just comeuppance. Yet, there are no heroes in I Care a Lot, and, indeed no one who is even remotely likable, beginning with the film’s protagonist, Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike). She’s a successful businesswoman who serves as a court-appointed guardian to senior citizens who have been turned over to the state due to severe health conditions, or so their doctors claim. It’s soon made clear that it’s all an elaborate scam in which everyone, from health officials to care facility managers, profits handsomely. Patients with a certain amount of wealth are targeted, placed against their will in homes, and Marla comes in to help liquidate the assets, making a small fortune in the process. However, Marla picks the wrong senior citizen when she crosses Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), a spry old woman with a checkered history and connections that will likely manifest Marla’s downfall.
From that point, the plot twists begin to pile up, and while there are individual moments that briefly titillate, it quickly becomes tough to invest any rooting interest in Marla. She is, after all, entirely reprehensible, a woman unbothered by the collateral damage she creates in pursuit of personal wealth. Perhaps the entire enterprise is some sort of inciting joke on Blakeson’s part: it could be viewed as an implicit indictment of audience members and their complicity in upholding wealth culture, asking them to reflect on their capacity to root for a woman who would broker the death of her own mother for a penthouse with a view. It’s too bad, then, that the ending negates such a potentially inspired take, delivering a dose of karmic fate that feels both cheap and contrived. Blakeson clearly wants to both have his cake and eat it, leaving the rest of us only crumbs; ironic, as it’s the very sort of thing he is here railing against. Pike is in full Gone Girl mode, all steely determination, her demeanor as severe as her angular haircut; at this point, she could deliver this kind of role in her sleep. The stacked cast, including Wiest, Peter Dinklage, Chris Messina, and Elia Gonzalez, is clearly having a ball, and it’s nice to see Blakeson back in the mode of his inspired break-out, 2009’s The Disappearance of Alice Creed, rather than the Hollywood bloat of his failed YA-adaptation The 5th Wave; he knows how to craft a slick, engaging thriller. Next time, he would be wise to leave the hollow pretensions at the door.
You can stream J Blakeson’s I Care a Lot on Netflix beginning on February 19.
Originally published as part of TIFF 2020 — Dispatch 3.