In a key moment in I Care a Lot, Netflix’s newest thriller movie out today, a character attempts to intimidate another by putting a plastic bag over their head. A couple of seconds later, the intimidator uses his fingers to pierce a hole in the bag, allowing the victim to breathe and speak. It’s an unintentionally perfect metaphor for the sort of half-measures littered throughout J Blakeson’s movie.
Why tear the bag open manually, thus destroying any possibility of future use, if removing the bag accomplishes the same purpose? To look cool? And why suffocate someone in the first place if you’re just going to disarm yourself moments later? To seem tough?
It’s this inability to move beyond the present moment that repeatedly deadlegs I Care a Lot, a film that aims to use slick visuals and a coterie of talent to ostensibly usher in jabs at capitalism. But these irony-laden thorns get dulled down as the movie progresses, too often pushed off to the side to make room for, most notably, a generic “big bad” plotline that exemplifies Blakeson’s reluctance to serve up something with meat on the bone.
Even cool girl Rosamund Pike, try as she clearly might, can’t save a script that tackles so many sporadic things so consistently shallowly.
Is I Care A Lot worth a watch?
Pike stars as Marla Grayson, a guardian for the elderly. Grayson skillfully maneuvers her icy way into convincing judges to move old folks into nursing homes with the faux explanation that they lack the ability to take care of themselves (that would be the titular “care”), then turns around, sells their assets, and pockets the cash. It’s a con game, and a fairly airtight one. That is, until she sets her sights on “cherry” Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), an unassuming woman who apparently has no friends or family for Grayson to put up with. But Grayson finds herself in deep water when new information comes to light regarding what Miss Peterson is and who she knows.
Beyond the casting of Pike, best known for her brilliant performance as Amy in near-perfect Gone Girl, director Blakeson really wants I Care a Lot to contain the essence of a Fincher movie. The industrial-based score; the production design dissecting the upper-middle class; the inclusion of particular props and inserts – at times, it’s impossible not to think about the Mank director.
In fact, in terms of story and plot beats (especially when progressing into the second half), it borrows much of its genetic makeup from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. However, where that movie achieves self-actualization in character development, caustic tone, and threatening stakes, I Care a Lot never stops second-guessing itself.
The characters are, supposedly, highly intelligent and driven to achieve their goals – Grayson is lawful evil personified. When I Care a Lot meets Grayson’s rhythm, it’s semi-enjoyable on momentum thrill alone – realizing just how many people in different workforces help Grayson out is snazzy.
The movie dabbles with a more neutral evil palette by introducing Peter Dinklage’s character, and their inevitable path-crossing takes a little time – a conversation between Grayson and Dinklage’s lawyer, played by Chris Messina, represents the film at its most, and last, cerebral scene. The showdown’s most egregious sins are rather slight, including forgivable hints of knee-jerk toxic masculinity and a wayward superiority complex on the part of Grayson.
Then I Care a Lot decides that the Russian mob needs to be way more involved in the narrative, and the waves of that choice shake up the rest of the film. Up goes the screen time for Dinklage (fine), down for Wiest (much better). Characters begin to take actions and make choices that are misaligned as far as predetermined trait consistency goes, and underdeveloped subplots take on more, unprecedented significance. It’s as if the movie re-calibrates to a different standard entirely, one much less solipsistic and, by proxy, fun to watch. Notes from the “troubled evil soul” movie are exchanged for ones from the “revenge thriller,” something that really only works when there’s some force of good or right, which this movie proudly lacks.
Pike is exemplary at doing a lot with a little, something that has resulted in rightful acclaim to the tune of a Golden Globe nomination in the Comedy or Musical category this year for her performance here. I don’t really know what’s outwardly funny in I Care a Lot – the subject matter is treated rather seriously when not generally sarcastic.
Perhaps if it were more reflexive in its toothlessness and not unaware of it, I’d be laughing a little more and not recoiling in confusion. Ah, well. Click play if only to see a great Rosamund Pike performance and some swoon-worthy costumes, and one final note: hit stop, at the latest, when there’s 15 minutes left.