Director: J Blakeson
Cast: Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza Gonzalez, Dianne Wiest
Streaming on: Netflix
The Rosamund Pike voiceover is a thing of chilling beauty. It’s unnervingly smooth, cruel, eloquent – lending a language to the unhinged. Like Gone Girl, I Care a Lot, too, opens with this voice. “Playing fair is a joke invented by the rich to keep the rest of us poor,” it says, conveying a crooked hunger for wealth without even showing her face. No need for a backstory, no need for context. Lest this isn’t enough, the sexy darkness of Dirge by electronic band Death in Vegas underscores her words. It gives music to her bitterness. I am a fucking lioness, she booms, not the least bit corny while we see a violent man tackled to the ground by security guards at a retirement home. Now that’s an introduction: A ruthless lady introducing herself as a predator in a world full of alpha males.
I Care a Lot is about this woman with a very corporate-sounding name, Marla Grayson. Marla is a shrewd con artist who has made a business out of ‘caring’ for the withered: she bleeds the elderly dry by placing them in senior-living facilities as their court-appointed legal guardian. She is in cahoots with physicians, retirement-home managers and lawyers – all of whom help her drain the bank accounts of the aged under the pretext of caregiving. She repossesses their property and money, “cashing them in” like casino chips before they die. When Marla operates with her gang of soulless state employees, I Care a Lot adopts the grammar of a slick heist thriller. It turns into a Coens-style black comedy when the latest old lady they trick has some nefarious connections – an eccentric pastry-loving gangster (Peter Dinklage), a criminal lawyer (Chris Messina) and a murky past. The narrative descends into bloody chaos, much of it predictably absurd, yet driven solely by Pike and Dinklage’s blue-eyed menace.
The visual palette – neon reds, shocking pinks – reflects Marla’s blood-sucking journey, even as she weaponizes her rivals’ perception of gender. There is nobody quite like Rosamund Pike in this matter; she has mastered the art of calculative coldness on screen, supremely aware of just how powerful her pale complexion and sharp features can be in the correct context. Marla doesn’t smoke, she vapes – contributing to the illusion of a dragon squirting smoke from its nostrils while burning down entire kingdoms. It’s a striking image in a film that often runs the risk of looking over-designed.
As viewers, we are conditioned to root for Marla’s ‘badassery’ when she threatens an angry man who wishes rape upon her – until you realize that one wrong doesn’t cancel out another. We are reacting to a battle of genders, not a war of ideologies – every now and then, she is the girl who dares to penetrate the male-dominated field of villains. She is brave and courageous and fiercely determined, but that doesn’t make her good. It takes great effort to remember this. The truth is that the world of I Care a Lot is a morally bankrupt one. Everyone is bad, everyone is a terrible human being, and it’s about the viewer’s reading of how even badness is a profession that can merit an underdog arc. Marla’s ego doesn’t allow her to let a man win, and in a way she is exploiting the woke idea of modern-day feminism. Seeing her defy toxic masculinity is invigorating, but also twisted because she might just be worse.
The lack of redemptive qualities all around in I Care a Lot is a tough sell. It’s like watching a python do battle against a crocodile – irrespective of who wins, humanity will lose
Marla has no interest in avenging her kind; she goes where the money is, and her appearance simply enables her to be the worst version of a man without looking like one. Feminism, like womanhood and altruism, is just a card she plays. When everyone is evil, we always root for the one who suffers the most. And by virtue of her sex, Marla is that person – fighting to win her right to be as awful as men. Fighting to create equal opportunity for women in the sexist dimensions of corruption.
The lack of redemptive qualities all around in I Care a Lot is a tough sell. It’s like watching a python do battle against a crocodile – irrespective of who wins, humanity will lose (unless of course you’re a wildlife photographer). So the best way to perhaps process this film is to view it as a perverse satire on the American Dream. Marla’s empire is based on helping the helpless – a sly subversion of the male saviour syndrome, but also a nod to the philanthropic ruse so many entrepreneurs wear in order to make their obscene fortunes. The only difference is that she has no conscience, no sense of guilt about exploiting systemic loopholes and invading families and goodbyes and futures. The only difference is that she is fooling people who are in no position to resist. Come to think of it, maybe that’s not so much of a difference after all. Till a few months ago, the United States of America was governed by her.