I Care a Lot
An intriguing set-up devolved into an uninteresting thriller
The anti-hero became a popular protagonist mold in TV. Many credit The Sopranos (1999-2007) with starting such a trend, this led to similar characters in such shows such as Mad Men (2007-2015) and Breaking Bad(2008-2013). Inevitably the trend spilled over to film, where classic villains would begin to be reconsidered (Maleficent (2014), Joker (2019)). After twenty years of such a focus, the formula is still being milked for viewers’ pleasure.
I Care A Lot (2021) is a film about a crooked attorney named Marla (Rosamund Pike), who schemes with doctors and the courts to become legal guardian of innocent elderly folk. This allows her to become the manager of their livelihood and finances, giving her the freedom to empty their bank accounts. Marla is at the top of her game when she preys on a supposedly lonely and rich Jennifer (Diane Wiest), who while seeming old and frail, might have much more trouble behind her.
I Care A Lot is directed by J Blakeson, a young director who has taken promising projects (Gunpowder (2017), The Fifth Wave (2016)), but has struggled to direct them with consistent tone. This appears to be the case with I Care A Lot as well. The premise is deliciously dark, and very present in the western world. I was rather surprised with how well the tone fit with the sprightly and nearly comedic style Blakeson paired. Marla is the typical antihero that viewers reluctantly support, but as she is pulled into a larger and more dangerous scheme, involving a powerful man named Roman (Peter Dinklage), the film begins to shift its gears and loses its way.
While the first half of I Care A Lot had a risky, but effective mix of tone and subject, and even significant social relevance, the film devolves into a kind of quippy thriller that begins to suspend viewers’ disbelief each turn. By crafting its plot in a very real subject, the superhero and spy-like acts that following clash in an ugly manner. Villains seem to get stupider as the plot demands, and our protagonists seem to pull out inconceivable skills and resources that even someone in the CIA would have trouble with. These changes and anomalies are never explained in the narrative and seem to stick out instead as examples of a lazy script that didn’t want to think out its plot. Blakeson misses many opportunities as well, to push the film in bolder ways, killing off certain characters, or leading others to intriguing character decisions. These risks seemed to be too extreme, leading to a much more timid and unsatisfying devolution.
Pike and Dinklage are great as adversaries, however, helping make an intriguing core conflict within the otherwise decaying thriller expectations. Pike seems to return to a familiar space of a conniving and scheming character akin to her famous one in Gone Girl (2014); the British actress slips back into the rhythm with a comfortable ease. Pike twirls her imaginary villain moustache a bit too much, however, as I found it increasingly hard to root for her. This is also exacerbated with Dinklage’s much more understated and charismatic turn as her adversary, which had me rooting for him to triumph instead.
In the end, I Care A Lot proves to be a adequate thriller, but it thinks it’s much smarter and socially conscious than it really is. Its setting and subject of the predatory practices inflicted on the elderly is an interesting one that carries viewers’ intrigue in the first half of the film, but J Blakeson then swerves the narrative into a silly thriller that becomes more unimaginative as the runtime increases. The result is a passable thriller that nevertheless leaves an aftertaste of disappointment.