I Care A Lot ****
Starring: Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza González, Dianne Wiest, Chris Messina
Director: J Blakeson
The Queer Agenda for cinema has always been that LGBT+ people should be visible on screen and that characters should only be incidentally Queer. But, of course, that means we take the rough with the smooth, because not all characters are positive people, regardless of sexuality. And what we have in this dark comic thriller from J Blakeson (Pitch Perfect, The Disappearance Of Alice Creed) is a lesbian protagonist who is profoundly appalling. But I think we’ve moved past that old Hollywood trope of murderous lesbian villains to allow murderous villains to be just incidentally lesbian, right? I guess the jury’s out in the court of public opinion for now.
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl, An Education) stars as Marla Grayson, a conwoman who gains legal guardianship over wealthy senior citizens. She and her girlfriend (González – Baby Driver, Hobbs & Shaw) gain legal power of attorney over elderly people, convincing a judge that they are no longer able to look after themselves and essentially incarcerate them in a nursing home. They select their victims based on their lack of descendants and think they have found perfect prey in Jennifer Patterson (Wiest – Hannah And Her Sisters, Bullets Over Broadway), a retired financier with a large home and no children. But it’s only once their dastardly plan has been enacted and she is firmly confined within the walls of their assisted living facility that they discover she does indeed have a son, Roman (Dinklage – Game Of Thrones, Three Billboards), who is also a dangerous criminal working with the Russian mafia. And he will stop at nothing to liberate his mother.
What follows is a pulse-racing battle of wits between a crime lord and a psychotic control freak, that goes from subtle manipulation to guns drawn in less than twenty minutes. Dinklage is suitably sinister as the gangster, but it is Pike that dominates this film, giving that same icy intensity that she gave in Gone Girl, boring deep into the eyes of those who wrong her. With a severe and angular haircut, she is pristine and immaculate, dressed to impress the courts and to manipulate those in her “care”. The reality, of course, is that the title is pure irony, because the very last thing she actually does is care for the people she is exploiting.
The first thirty minutes of the film are fundamentally horrifying. We see American bureaucracy at its absolute worst, taking a woman who is fully in charge of her faculties and taking everything away from her that she has. As Marla forcefully takes away Jennifer’s home, phone, possessions and freedom, the old lady goes from a beautiful independent life to one of cataclysmic misery, all because she doesn’t understand what is happening to her. Marla’s abusive actions and intentions cannot be described as anything less than atrocious, so when it becomes clear that she’s messed with the wrong little old lady, you’ll be rooting for the destruction of this deplorable young woman. It says a lot for the morals on show that the hero of this film is a gangster with a dreadfully high body count.
After the film’s sickening first act, it then wanders into fairly standard crime thriller territory, with tit for tat one-upmanship between the two sides. Roman will stop at nothing to rescue his mother, while Marla will do anything to maintain her control. The system is manipulated to give Jennifer the worst possible care, with her abuse being used as a tool against her son. The chases and shoot-outs become high-octane stuff, but some of it feels fairly arbitrary when the emotional manipulation is what really packs a punch, especially with the help of Roman’s smarm-filled lawyer, in scene-stealing moments from Chris Messina (Devil, Julie & Julia). And though we do get the satisfying ending we want, there’s a narrative right angle in its final minutes that is likely to divide audiences and critics alike.
Marla is one of the most morally reprehensible antiheroes that we have seen on screen in a long time. Rosamund Pike has already earned a well-deserved Golden Globe nomination for her performance, so it will be interesting to see if the Oscars follow suit. But while this is decidedly The Pike Show, it also opens the can of worms of the privatisation of the social care sector. It highlights how a person can become nothing but an impediment toward the accumulation of their assets, because a system exists that is open to exploitation. While the craft of this film isn’t necessarily much to write home about, its central theme certainly is and Pike achieves something quite remarkable too. Marla is utterly detestable, but her sexuality wholly incidental. It’s barely even a footnote. Which is great! Even if she’s a really nasty piece of work.
OUT NOW TO WATCH ON AMAZON PRIME.