What these predators don’t realize is that they’ve chosen the wrong prey this time, and that by kidnapping, imprisoning, and bilking this seemingly kindly retiree, they’ve angered some dangerous and violent people. Peter Dinklage is low-key chilling as a volatile Russian mobster with a proclivity for pastries, and Chris Messina has a tremendous scene as his smooth-talking lawyer, who strides into Marla’s office and tries to buy her off before resorting to threats. The snappy and increasingly intense exchange, with both actors matching each other barb for barb, is the film’s highlight.
Blakeson’s come up with such an original idea here, and he’s presented it in a way that’s both slick and vivid. Sure, the blithe, parasitic nature of these characters is disturbing, but the verve of the storytelling on display keeps you hooked, as does the ever-versatile Pike. She’s captivating in her confidence and her ability to outmaneuver everyone, every time. Marla is a despicable human being, and while you won’t exactly find yourself rooting for her to succeed, you’ll at least be curious as to whether she can pull off her most outlandish scheme yet. And then once we realize who Jennifer Peterson really is—and who she’s connected to—Wiest reveals a character who’s hilariously sharp through the haze of medications she probably doesn’t even need.
“Don’t get fooled by old people,” Marla tells Fran as they discover the multitudes their latest ward contains. “Even sadistic, immoral assholes get old.”
But the detached, bemused tone that sustains the film for so long eventually gives way to actual feelings—to its detriment—as this dark comedy steadily turns just plain dark. Pike can do anything, and this is her juiciest role since “Gone Girl,” but “I Care a Lot” becomes less interesting when her character starts allowing emotions like fear to seep through. We don’t need justification for Marla’s heinous acts; simply making her a monster makes a stronger point. And eventually, she becomes superhuman in the face of real physical danger, which we’re just supposed to go with—as if her scrappy, hungry nature makes her a survivor in every situation.
But she does pull off a cool trick involving a knocked-out tooth and a jug of milk that may be useful someday, so if you learn anything at all from watching “I Care a Lot,” make sure it’s this handy (and wholesome) tidbit.
Now playing on Netflix.
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