I Care A Lot is all bark and no bite, but at least it knows some cool tricks.
This review contains spoilers for the new Netflix film I Care A Lot.
J Blakeson’s I Care A Lot is full of irredeemable figures: a grifter stiffing old people out of house and home, a gangster who uses any means possible to get what he wants, people who turn a blind eye to injustice just because they make money off of it. The film, released worldwide on Netflix on February 19, follows Marla Grayson (Gone Girl’s Rosamund Pike), a professional legal guardian who cons her elderly wards out of their savings and belongings. Marla’s swindling empire begins to crumble when she attempts to defraud a woman (Hannah and Her Sisters’s Dianne Wiest) who’s not as helpless as she seems.
I Care A Lot attempts to be two films at once. What begins as a high-octane thriller haphazardly peppered with subtle and aimless critiques of the U.S. legal system fizzles out into a satire of American capitalism and bureaucracy that can’t quite pin its thesis down. These two concepts are always at conflict with each other and end up diluting the message so central to the film.
Blakeson focuses squarely on the thriller aspect in the first half of the film to much success. The balance of entertainment and suspense makes for a wildly engaging thrill ride. The violence is highly stylized and almost comical, but it still works to create a fast-paced and entertaining caper. Blakeson also does an exceptional job of creating suspense a la Hitchcock and his bomb under the table; we know that Marla’s in over her head before she does, and the resulting tension is as taut as a piece of twine ready to snap at any second.
The suspense comes to a head when our two big bads, Marla and Roman (Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage) come face to face in a heated confrontation. All of the tension finally bubbles over, and we learn more about our antiheroine’s motivations. Marla is just someone who’s trying to fulfill the American dream, a sentiment that’s loosely referenced throughout the first hour of the movie. She reveals that all she wants is to be able to think of money as power like rich people do. With exceptional performances — Pike channeling the cold, calculated manipulation of Amy Dunne in Gone Girl and Dinklage giving the audience an almost comically evil villain (which is, in my opinion, what he does best) — the scene is at once restrained and explosive, with tensions simmering below the surface until the confrontation eventually detonates.
But wait, there’s still 45 minutes left in the movie; where do we go from here now that the proverbial twine has snapped? Blakeson’s answer, it seems, is to jam pack the bulk of his commentary into the last act. Even though things initially look pretty bleak for Marla, she comes back with a coup de grace so chilling that the film would have been great if it had ended there. However, the film drags on and we see Marla and Roman eventually team up. While the very final scene of the film is shocking, that’s all it is; there’s no substance to the comeuppance she experiences.
It’s hard to pin down what exactly Blakeson’s commentary on the nature of capitalism is trying to be. Does he want to tell us that capitalism turns everything into a ruthless cash grab, even the systems that are meant to protect those who are most vulnerable? Or is he simply trying to say that capitalism makes everyone a bad person, and the systems of bureaucracy in place let them get away with it? But wait, if everyone sucks and gets away with it, then why do we so explicitly see one of our characters get what some might say they rightfully deserve as penance for their actions? Blakeson can’t seem to pin down his thesis, and his satire ends up being rushed, toothless, and trite. The film works much better as a satire of the elder care industry specifically, but the ending muddles what could have been an incisive commentary on a system that exploits the most vulnerable people in our society. Instead of being a commentary on capitalism underneath the exterior of a crime thriller, I Care A Lot ends up being a crime thriller with the patina of criticising capitalism that ends up being all walk and no talk.
Despite its flaws, I Care A Lot is not a bad movie. It’s still a deeply entertaining crime thriller, but it makes some thematic choices that undermine what it seems like the director set out to do. Even if you enjoy the caper at the center of the film, when it comes to the second half of the film, you might find that you don’t care a lot.
I Care A Lot is available to stream on Netflix.