Toronto International Film Festival 2020: I CARE A LOT

It’s all about the game and how you play it.

Scores of minds have grappled and tugged at riches. The parlay between rags and results requires either ambition or fault. The best players secure both. And while it may feel comforting – or simply less tiring – to consider the value of enterprise and service, or to assume its innocence, the fact of the matter is this: a game is always afoot.

Even so, there are still scum scams too ludicrous, too tight, and, in the worst of cases, too legal to notice. At least, that’s the perspective of J Blakeson’s darkly satiric, star-studded thriller, I Care a Lot. Positioned at the clashing crux of two taut and lucrative operations, the film’s first half is a cyclone of corruption, scorched and accelerated by vices of the finest (and most entertaining) order. Later on, as the sinking displays of human greed are cashed in for what is more or less a gang fight, the English filmmaker bites off perhaps a bit more than can be chewed, as any attempt to humanize or align with anyone onscreen is far too much to ask.

In either case, however, I was glued the entire time.

Inconsiderate Inheritance

“There’s no such thing as good people,” Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) sneers in narration during the film’s opening credits. Unveiling her philosophies on economics and determination – a skewered compass without a lick of morality – I Care a Lot quickly prides itself in being a heartless movie; it serves to subject its audience to the highest of lows, the successful devils whose company is never entreated, but whose dastardly dispositions are never without flair… at least at arm’s length.

Since the law dictates that the state, in order to best serve its citizens, reserves the right to acquire custody of anyone deemed unfit to care for themselves, Marla has set up shop as a professional legal guardian for the elderly. She and her partner Fran (Eiza González) are hoodlums insured by law, and to their credit, their game is tight: a local doctor (Alicia Witt) points them in the direction of an ailing older person who, in the eyes of the court (a purposefully dubious Isiah Whitlock Jr.), could only benefit from Marla’s services.

Toronto International Film Festival 2020: I CARE A LOT
source: Black Bear Pictures

Of course, those services mostly involve tossing the client into a retirement home and throwing out the key, floating the money swiftly, flawlessly, and legally into Marla’s “care.” Houses and property are often cleared and auctioned as a means of settling health care debts, and family, as shown in one of the film’s premiere scenes, is boxed out entirely. A whole network of callous professionals lubes this beast, ensuring that corners are covered and that the operation may proceed without a hitch. At least, that’s until Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) enters the picture.

Introduced to Marla as a “cherry” – well-off, totally alone, and just starting to dwindle in health – Jennifer’s life is snatched and detached in an instant; in fact, the quick montage between the court order and her house’s listing might as well be set to scale. And as if the con wasn’t easy enough already, Marla’s payday suddenly grows after she falls upon a pouch of diamonds in Jennifer’s safe deposit box. Unalarmed or, as the self-described lioness would put it, unafraid by the diamond’s origins, Marla soon unveils the ties between her unwilling client and crime boss Roman Lunyov (a forceful, pastry-filled Peter Dinklage). Stubbornness and legal nitpicks escalate the situation, and soon enough, Marla’s refusal to bow down – she can recount the number of times a man’s threats amounted to anything – incites a war.

Diluted Darkness

With a slight change of direction, I Care a Lot could easily be a horror film, or even a grueling drama – the potential to cash in big on defenseless people is made worst only by the fact that the law allows it to happen – but Blakeson makes the calculated, and ultimately successful decision to maintain humor in his script.

While the absurdity and abominations from literally every single character onscreen is a large factor in that success, it can mostly be chalked up to Pike, who retains her slick sociopathic charm from Gone Girl with ease. Coasting along her days in pointed, piercing suits without a care or thought in the world to the pain she’s causing, Marla’s confidence is nearly never stifled, even in the face of criminal chaos. A scene in which her drenched self wanders into a roadside convenience store to embalm a loose tooth in milk will surely go down as an all-time Pike classic.

That being said, Pike’s malevolence is sometimes left at odds with Blakeson’s screenplay. The actress happily bolsters the film’s laid-out “no such thing as good people” aesthetic, scraping iniquity out of almost every stare and strut and statement she makes. It’s a commandingly vindictive turn, but even her performance struggles to stand and maintain the film’s course when, throughout the bloody feud, the self-sabotaging script turns sentimental. Just because fights have sides doesn’t mean we have to pick one; it’s a shame that a film as satirically astute and brazenly dark as this one did not realize that.

Conclusion: I Care A Lot

It is just as easy to be repulsed by I Care a Lot as it is to be entertained. Enjoyment will be determined solely by audiences’ comfort with an uncomfortable reality, as the tycoons and the games at play are neither imaginary nor out of reach. But beyond a few hiccups and a rather flat finale (the film disappointingly succumbs to one of its weaker social critiques), the film is a huge win for both Pike and Blakeson. And while it may be entering the Toronto Film Festival without a distributor, I’m sure it will find a home soon.

I Care a Lot had its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 12th.

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