This twisty satire stars Rosamund Pike and Peter Dinklage as a pair of warring sociopaths. Marla Grayson and Roman Lunyov are as well matched as Alien and Predator. The surprise is that there are no good guys to watch the contest play out. If you’re in the mood for bracing nihilism, welcome to one of the most savage films of the year.
Pike (nominated for a Best Actress Golden Globe for her performance) knows how to make bad behaviour gripping. She tapped into a well of loneliness to make us root for Gone Girl’s brittle schemer, Amy Dunne. She does it again here. Marla is a corporate grifter with a spectacular lack of empathy towards the elderly. Given that she cares so little for others, why should we care about her? The short answer: because, when staring into Pike’s eyes, it’s impossible not to.
So this is Marla’s hustle: with the help of a dodgy doctor, she labels victims of a certain age infirm, then presents herself to a clueless judge as a conscientious “legal guardian”. After that, the old timers are bunged into a care home (owned by another of Marla’s associates) while Marla makes hay with their assets.
In court, Marla is as pretty and perky as Julie Andrews’ Mary Poppins. With great aplomb and a killer wardrobe, she exploits two sexist ideas – that caring is women’s work and that a woman who looks good is a gift from the gods.
Marla’s only mistake is to underestimate the opposition. She and her girlfriend Fran (Eiza Gonzalez) target sweet little Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), unaware that Jennifer is connected to a Russian mobster, the aforementioned Roman (Dinklage is gorgeous, droll and, when it’s called for, icy).
While Marla vapes, Roman nibbles pastries. Beside their oral fixations, they share a view of themselves as outsiders. Marla, for example, is vocal on the subject of misogyny, though interestingly, British writer-director J Blakeson downplays a few of the obstacles you might expect these characters to face. In this urban jungle, there seems to be no such thing as homophobia. Or ableism. Which seems less like an oversight than proof of Blakeson’s mischievous agenda. This is the world as we know it, but not quite.
Where he does let himself down is in not doing more with Fran and Jennifer. Fran has virtually no personality. Jennifer all but disappears in the third act. That’s especially disappointing since Jen, thanks to Wiest, is as cute as a poison dart frog.
Whaddya gonna do? See this movie for Marla and Roman, all-too-human monsters, terrifyingly good at living the American dream.
118mins, cert 15, on digital demand