Dir: J Blakeson. Starring: Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza González, Chris Messina, Dianne Wiest. Cert 15, 118 mins
I Care a Lot orbits entirely around Rosamund Pike. The British star has brought swagger to all manner of complex, thorny women, including two famous Maries: the war journalist Colvin and the scientist Curie. But watch her in J Blakeson’s taut, thrilling satire – with that ice-blonde bob and barbed, American twang – and it’s impossible not to think of Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne.
That 2014 film announced Pike as a major talent and earned her an Academy Award nomination. Here, she deliberately toys with the legacy of cinema’s ultimate “cool girl”, and the strange affection audiences have fostered for Amy – a housewife who fakes her own death to seek revenge on a neglectful husband. In I Care a Lot, Pike takes Blakeson’s morally complex script and adds a whole new layer – daring us to hold up this despicable character as some twisted vision of female empowerment. It’s a clever trick.
Marla Grayson is a monster of a more truthful nature. Blakeson wrote her with real stories in mind – stories of legal guardians who drain the assets of elderly Americans entrusted into their care. With the help of Fran (Eiza González), her partner-in-crime on both a professional and romantic level, Marla bribes doctors into passing over their wealthiest and most troublesome patients. While they’re dropped off at an assisted living facility, Marla gets busy selling off their homes and heirlooms, pocketing the profit.
Her latest target, Jennifer (Dianne Wiest), is what they call a “cherry” – rich in savings and poor in family connections. In other words, they can do what they want and no one will complain. There’s a genius in how Wiest’s performance morphs over the course of the film. The cherubic face of someone quick to offer cake and tea will suddenly curdle, as the mouth twists and spits out words like: “You little crock of c***”. Jennifer is not what she seems. She has connections to the Russian mafia – specifically, Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage), who has Jack Dorsey’s beard and a fervent love of eclairs.
Cinematographer Doug Emmett’s bright colour palette is seemingly inspired by Damien Hirst’s medicine cabinet installations. It’s a perfect complement to I Care a Lot’s brassy satire of America’s health system and the devilish antihero at its centre. Marla hides behind faux modesty (“I’m just someone who cares”, she insists) and girlboss maxims. She divides the world into lions and lambs, but pointedly labels herself as a “f***ing lioness”. The vape she habitually puffs on veils her features behind a thin layer of smoke. But Dinklage’s Roman – which he plays broad and hammy enough to have fun without losing the character’s integrity – pushes the film towards something more deceptively complex.
In its second half, I Care a Lot plays like a standard thriller, as Marla does her best to dodge the mob’s bullets – but there’s something thrilling in how she swings between aggressor and victim. Roman is no less sympathetic than she is. Dinklage’s mob boss and Pike’s corporate grifter represent two forms of violence: one physical, kept largely in the shadows, and one emotional, openly paraded around courtrooms and offices. Which is the greater evil? Pike’s provocative glare dares us to answer.