Most reviews of Netflix’s new action/thriller, I Care A Lot, will tell you that it’s a good movie. While it exceeds the perfect movie length by a few minutes, it earns the extra time with some surprise twists. It was well executed, which is always lovely to see. It’s artistic without shoving it down your throat. Overall, for the Average Joe, it gets 4.5 stars and maybe some Oscar buzz.
I almost thought the movie sold out its main point in the first five minutes as Rosamund Pike, playing a dastardly Marla Grayson, gives a lengthy monologue about how much she cares. Marla is a court-appointed guardian of the elderly, and she is in court arguing that Mr. Feldstrom, a man we have just seen trying to break into a nursing home, can’t see his mother because she’s in failing health and his visits agitate her. The judge agrees, much to Mr. Feldstom’s dismay.
When he catches up to Marla outside of the courthouse he calls her a bitch. He says “I hope you get raped and murdered and killed” before spitting in her face. Her partner, Fran (Elza González), tries to step in but Marla holds her back. She gives a chilling speech about how it must sting that he was beaten by a woman. Pike gives a downright scary performance in this moment, she has Feldstrom quaking in his boots. I’m kind of on her side at this point, because I’m a feminist and he looks like he was an extra in the Capital Riot. Technically, at this point, we do not know who the villain is. While Marla is creepy in the courtroom, she could just be socially awkward, a burdened and exhausted caretaker. The son of her ward could be abusive – like I said, he looks the part.
The next expositional info dump sets us straight on that point. What follows the initial introduction is five minutes of pure evil. Make your skin crawl, feel like you need a shower, not safe for children under fifteen, unadulterated evil. Marla runs a guardianship scam. She has sheisty doctors that will testify to an older person’s shockingly sudden decline in mental health so that she can place them in homes run by shady people on her payroll. The only person in all of it who isn’t dripping with evil is the judge; he is simply the personification of a broken system. Regardless, they all play their part and the victims are left to rot in despondence while Marla and her team suck them dry.
Marla and Fran’s play depends entirely on the way that older people are viewed in American society. The target that inspires the action of the movie, Jennifer Peterson (Dianne West), plays all of the “little old lady” stereotypes down to that soft, whispy voice that can only be achieved by a woman after her second grandchild, and she uses it to politely ask for the manager at the nursing home. No one takes her seriously or spends much time talking to her at all. While it seems like the film is making a statement about elder abuse, we spend so little time with Jennifer that the lesson barely lands. It’s used a story device, and not a statement.
Speaking of statements, it may seem like “I Care A Lot” is making one by having two women as crime and life partners. Women as the big bad in an action movie is still considered a “twist” by most people. While I am glad for representation (women can be evil masterminds, thank you very much) I can’t help but pick up whiffs of toxic masculinity in Marla’s multiple man hating diatribes and the way that she wields a girthy vape pen and leaves it on every table as if begging you to measure it. There is an excellent shot in which she exhales and leans through the cloud of vapor, presenting a very intimidating picture, but I doubt that one single shot was worth phallic representation being such a prominent part of the movie. When she flashes her hand holding the vape pen at someone to get them to stop talking, she adopts the mantra “speak softly and carry a big dick”.
The action that plays out in the movie is catching, you won’t be able to look away as a game of super fucked up pong begins between Marla and Roman Lunyov, Jennifer’s secret son (played by Peter Dinklage). It’s well written and well executed, though there are some editing flaws (the scene where Marla swims out of her car made me feel as if I was blinking wrong) and overall I’d give it an A- for inventive action movie meets psychological thriller. In order to really experience this movie I recommend that you commit yourself. Have your snacks ready and get comfortable, dim the lights and enjoy the ride. Unlike a lot of action movies this one does not require a huge suspension of disbelief. Everything that happens could really happen if the circumstances were just right. Both Pike and Dinklage are so committed to their roles that you forget who they are for two hours and get lost in the story.
When Marla and Roman become partners, it seems fitting on the surface. The two of them have dealt serve after serve and the other has been unable to duck, so some may wonder who would emerge the victor if they had continued to fight. I, however, know that it would have been Marla. The film spends several valuable minutes focusing on the fact that Marla has not only lost her tooth, but her number one priority is preserving it and getting it back in her mouth. It’s one of her molars, and would not put a big dent in that fabulous smile of hers. So why does she do it? Why is she prioritizing this small inconvenience when there is so much else going on? Because she would never let another person take anything away from her. When given the opportunity, she chooses control over murder by orchestrating Lunyov’s hospitalization and her appointment as his ward. By doing so, she is demonstrating her ability to save anything that she sees as valuable. Lunyov picks up that lesson from her and asks her to become partners because he knows that in the end, he would lose.
At the end of the day, they both experimented with Lunyov’s mother as a sick and twisted job interview process. Jennifer is the only sympathetic character because the rest are so atrocious that they are entirely unlikeable. When Marla is shot by Mr. Feldstrom, the man from the beginning of the movie, for her first crime that we saw as an audience, it barely feels like justice. When he audibly wished for Marla’s rape and murder, he was written off by anyone who may have cared, diluting his justice to a mere plot twist. It was a relief to me though, because after watching “I Care A Lot” I found that I actually cared very little, and I just wanted the cruelty to end.
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