I love me some Rosamund Pike.
I Care a Lot is the first thing of note by writer and director J. Blakeson, at least since his 2009 film The Disappearance of Alice Creed. It screened at TIFF last year, but some of us have to wait for things to become more widely available for these things.
The film revolves around a professional caregiver with a great scheme. Marla (Rosamund Pike) is hooked up with wealthy elderly patients and becomes their full legal guardian, sequestering them away in a nursing home while selling off all of their assets to profit for herself and her team. The elderly patients are drugged up and basically turned into vegetables while they wait for death. Her girlfriend, Fran (Eliza Gonzalez), helps run the organization with her and aids in selling off the homes and properties. They’ve got an aid in Dr. Amos (Alicia Witt, who plays “Libby” in one of my favorites – Vanilla Sky), and when the woman recommends Jennifer Peterson (Diane Wiest) the group thinks they’ve hit a cash cow. Their plans are turned upside down when her son, a Russian mobster (Peter Dinklage), comes looking for his beloved mother.
I simply love when Rosamund Pike is let off the leash like this. Seven years ago she made waves in Gone Girl, a David Fincher film that allowed her to play someone horribly unlikeable but so intriguing that you sort of root for her. We’re once again allowed to watch her revel in an attempt to make a horrible person relatable. Something interesting happens when you force an audience to feel for someone like this, and Pike exists in the realm between frosty and fun that allows you to care for her while she’s picking your pocket. It’s a high-wire balancing act that ultimately succeeds, even when the character gets lost in the weeds at points.
Dinklage, on the other hand, feels less interested in doing something interesting than he is playing the hits. We know what a mob boss is supposed to be, and he sinks into that with a resounding sigh. He’s stoic, cares about his family, and creates a terrifying atmosphere merely stepping out of his car. The issue is that…that’s kind of it. I appreciate the ability it takes to create that, but I’ve seen it so many times before that I just felt underwhelmed.
Blakeson is turning into an interesting figure. He’s only directed four films, and two of those aren’t all that worth looking into. I Care a Lot is his best work to date, and I’m hopeful it garners him enough attention to continue working on thrillers of this scale. He likes still-frame shots, blocked with care and lit like something I would have expected in the early 2000s instead of today. The way he shoots his subjects makes them all seem larger than life, which works both for and against his final product. Each shot is composed to create a stylish, slick story that is more of those than it is of substance. He’s saved by his performers and, to be honest, by editor Mark Eckersly who has done a stellar job.
Blakeson also retained composer Marc Canham from his previous efforts, and the guy may be the real star of the film. His score is fully electronic and sounds like a goddamn panic attack, somehow even painting triumphs as something to be nervous about. It’s a gloriously uncomfortable series of tracks that loops throughout the film to weave a stronger narrative than we’re given with anything lesser.
I enjoyed I Care a Lot. It’s not a perfect film and it never truly revels in the vile nature of its lead character, but it’s fun and a poignantly original little thriller that sets the American Dream up on a heap of hustles and scams. I had a lot of fun with it, and I think the Netflix release brings it more attention than it would have gotten otherwise. It’s just a shame I couldn’t have looked at all those beautiful shots or listened to that awesome score in a theatre right now.
I Care a Lot is currently streaming on Netflix in the US.