MOVIE "I Care a Lot"
WHEN|WHERE Starts streaming Friday on Netflix.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT When it comes to fodder for a dark thriller, the world of court-appointed legal guardianship might not seem like the most natural fit.
But the writer-director J Blakeson manages exactly that in "I Care a Lot," a new movie starring the always excellent Rosamund Pike ("Gone Girl") that begins streaming on Netflix Friday.
Pike plays Marla Grayson, who runs an elaborate grift facilitated by the medical and court systems that allows her to assume total control over the financial and personal lives of senior citizens who are in many cases perfectly capable of caring for themselves.
She and her partner/lover Fran (Eiza González) set their sites on Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), who seems like an easy mark without much in the way of personal attachments but in fact has close ties to mob boss Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage). He is not too happy about the situation.
MY SAY "I Care a Lot" is another one of those movies predicated on the idea that achieving the American dream in whatever form it might exist these days requires an intense ruthlessness that conflates morality with weakness.
Pike's Marla Grayson, in the vein of cinematic figures such as Martin Scorsese's depiction of Jordan Belfort ("Wolf of Wall Street") before her, is relentlessly focused on exploiting every possible angle to become as rich as possible.
She will beat you at anything — she'll row faster than you at the gym, cycle faster than you in spin class, prepare for your every possible move in order to take control of as many people as possible to become as rich as possible. Just in case there was any doubt: she's the predator, not the prey, as her narration informs us.
Pike is such a top-rate actor that she humanizes this person as much as possible; even though she's engaged in heinous, destructive behavior, there's no questioning the drive or the smarts behind it.
The screenplay gives Marla more sensitive moments, particularly in the development of her relationship with Fran, but the star doesn't need them in order to get under the skin of someone whose entire world is built around an exhaustive drive to dominate.
After the writer-director lays the groundwork for what feels like a robust satire of endemic bureaucratic corruption and the opportunities presented by endless loopholes and red tape, the perfect elements for a sinister person to manipulate to her advantage, the movie ultimately devolves into a showdown between Marla and Dinklage's Roman Lunyov.
He is quite the menacing figure in his own right; with his hair in a bun, a goatee that hangs just-so below his chin, a penchant for difficult workouts involving gymnastic rings and fits of anger in which a gun may be waved or anything in front of him might be hurled at an underling.
Watching these two frighteningly evil people go at it is never less than entertaining. The movie has style to spare, enhanced by a driving electronic score, and a centerpiece sequence involving an attempt to free Jennifer from the care home Marla has placed her in achieves a perfect confluence of funny and grim.
The problem is that the nihilistic strains throughout "I Care a Lot" are hopelessly, dispiritingly bleak. Depiction cannot, of course, always be assumed to be endorsement, and there's no question that the filmmaker sees a lot that's problematic in this cutthroat American landscape.
But there's no one to root for, no light or redemption anywhere to be found, and it all gradually becomes more depressing than enlightening.
BOTTOM LINE This is an entertaining movie with a terrific lead performance, but the characters are not interesting enough to overcome the fact that they're utterly repugnant and the satire isn't as sharp as it could have been.