A grave injustice has been done by a heartless, greedy and smug villain.
A corrupt, easily-gamed system has been twisted and an old woman’s freedom and fortune have been stolen.
And as you watch, slack-jawed, as “I Care a Lot” takes its deep dive into dark comedy, you wonder how this wrong will be righted, who will save the day, rescue the victim and right wrongs?
The Russian mob, maybe?
This clever and darker than dark thriller gives us villains to hiss at and villains to root for. But at the end of the day, when evil is done and hope is thin, “justice” and revenge blur. In the movies, at least, we bay for an avenger to spill some blood.
Writer-director J Blakeson, who gave us the Gemma Arterton thriller “The Disappeareance of Alice Creed,” stacks the deck and deals the cards in this mean, improbable laugh-out-loud thriller. And the first way he stacks that deck is casting.
Rosemund Pike is Marla Grayson, a guardianship attorney who is there to make late-life decisions for senior clients. She takes guardianship of those deemed unable to care for themselves by their doctors and a family court judge. Don’t challenge her in court for putting your father or mother in a home when you wouldn’t make that hard decision for her. Don’t blame her for draining her finances as she does. Don’t show up unprepared for a little courtroom shaming, a lot of tough love and a few cozy “the court decideds” snapped out by her favorite judge (Isaiah Whitlock Jr.), who never finds her anything but reasonable.
“Caring, sir, is my JOB,” she preaches. And the wall of her office is decorated with legions of clients under her “care” and subject to her billings. Marla cruelly and ruthlessly uses and abuses the law, and she does not play fair.
“Playing fair is a joke invented by rich people to keep the rest of us poor.”
“Gone Girl” Pike is what we call “on the nose casting.” Calling the blonde, imperious and unflappable Marla a “bitch” just gets her feminist back up, and does a great disservice to dogs. A dog wouldn’t do what she does.
And then one day, she lands a “cherry,” a little old lady of means and no known family served up by a colluding, corrupt doctor. As she’s played by sweet little Oscar winner Dianne Wiest, well, we fear for her and grit our teeth over the swank “care facility” and its armed guard, locked bulletproof glass doors, the medications used to “control” her, the cell phone that’s taken from her and the smirk of the monster who put her here.
“No known family” is key. Because there’s family, and once he (Peter Dinklage, in Hitler hair and goatee) finds out, there’s going to be hell to pay. This guy scares people. This guy hurts people. And when he sends a smarmy, oily attorney (Chris Messina) to point out this “mistake” to you and your business and life partner (Eiza González of “Baby Driver,””Hobbs & Shaw”), maybe you ought to listen.
The most delicious scenes in “I Care A Lot” let us revel in the oblique threats and counter threats, the escalating measures each side takes in the tug-of-war that begins with this meeting of legal minds.
“She has very powerful…friends,” oily attorney purrs, “who can make life very…uncomfortable for you.”
Is that a threat?
“That’s just…data for you to collate.”
Marla won’t be bluffed. And we’ve established that she bristles at any hint of “threats from a man.” Game on, with a drugged, imprisoned senior citizen — her house and car sold to “pay her bills,” her safe deposit box looted — as the pawn.
That senior? The drugs wear off just enough to make the only threat that matters to Marla.
“You’re in trouble NOW!”
Blakeson sets his comic thriller just within the realm of the plausible, just outside the probable. If you haven’t dealt with elder care bureaucracy, any lawyer dealing with elder-care issues, an estate attorney, a nursing home that gives you cause for alarm or suspicions, you will.
That’s what makes its predatory lawyer/anti-heroine so infuriating. Pike just bathes in our loathing, poker-faces her contempt and takes Marla over the line. Marla knows she’s doing wrong, but is so good at “projection” that she “whatabouts” her way out of every moral quandary.
Dinklage gives us an avenging angel with a sweet tooth, a bad temper and a soft spot for “Momma.” Damned if we don’t root for the Russian mobster to have his justice and teach this hateful predator a lesson. But even a mobster has got to at least try and “keep it legal.”
The third act lurches into “get out of jail free” cards, illogical reactions to the threat of imminent death, twisty “escapes” and what not. “Care” made me stop caring for a bit there.
But Pike, Dinklage and Blakeson never let up on the evil they’re willing to show, the judgement they withhold and the “justice” that seems, increasingly, like a distant mirage we can only glare at in bitter rage and no bemused resignation.
MPA Rating: R for language throughout and some violence
Cast: Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza Gonzalez, Diane Wiest, Chris Messina, Isaiah Whitlock, Jr.
Credits: Scripted and directed by J. Blakeson. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:57