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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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CineHawk Review: ‘I Care a Lot’

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ILLUSTRATION: CASEY WOOD ’23/THE HAWK

“I Care a Lot” is a slick and stylish dark comedy crime thriller about a ruthless con artist who finds herself in way over her head after her latest scheme earns the ire of a local mafia boss. 

Written and directed by J Blakeson, the film stars Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza González, Chris Messina, Macon Blair, Alicia Witt and Damian Young. It is currently available to stream on Netflix.

The protagonist (but definitely not the hero) of the film is Marla Grayson, played by Pike, a court-appointed legal guardian whose job is to handle the personal affairs of the elderly once they are unable to take care of themselves. 

In reality, Marla is running a scheme where perfectly healthy elders are misdiagnosed with crippling mental disabilities and committed to assisted living facilities where they are cut off from their families and friends. Marla exploits her newly gained legal authority to sell all of their assets. She runs this business with her romantic partner Fran, played by González, whose relationship with Marla proves to be her sole redeeming trait. 

Things take a turn for the worse when Marla and Fran pull their usual con on Jennifer Peterson, played by Dianne Wiest, a wealthy retiree with seemingly no next of kin. After they have Jennifer committed, the con-artist couple find out far too late that Jennifer is the mother of Russian mobster Roman Lunyov, played by Dinklage, who will stop at nothing to be reunited with his mother and will inflict lethal revenge on Marla for separating them.

The cinematography is crisp and clean, perfect for capturing the cold, cynical environment that Marla and Fran operate in. This coldness is contrasted by a surprisingly warm color palette, which accentuates the amazing performances that bring life and energy to the film. Rounding out these inspired choices is the film’s score, which, while appropriately suspenseful and atmospheric for a crime thriller, is consistently fun and does not take itself too seriously.

Pike is a perfect fit for Marla, channeling the malevolence from her “Gone Girl” performance into a similar but distinct depiction of a consummately manipulative protagonist. As despicable as Marla’s actions are, her unapologetic confidence, mixed with an unflappable charisma, will thoroughly invest viewers in seeing her overcome the enemies she finds herself up against. González’s Fran is likable enough and shares good chemistry with Pike’s Marla, but she is significantly underdeveloped in the script. Unfortunately, the relationship between Marla and Fran is one of the better aspects of the story but is dragged down by the film’s treatment of Fran as a glorified satellite character to her more interesting girlfriend.

This miss is tied to another one of the script’s flaws. The film is far more interested in exploring the nature of Marla’s day job than her personal life. There are scattered glimpses from time to time, but nearly all of Marla’s screen time is devoted to her cons or her conflict with Roman. While this may have been Blakeson’s intention (emphasizing that Marla is addicted to her work of conning others), it does limit the ability of the audience to connect with Marla as a multi-faceted, three-dimensional character. 

Dinklage is an award-winning actor for a reason, so it is no surprise that Roman makes for a memorable and compelling villain. He is a cold and violent mobster, but he is up against a con artist who wrongfully institutionalized his mother, making for an interesting conflict. His campaign of revenge is aided by his soft-spoken yet intimidating lawyer Dean Ericson, who is portrayed by Messina. Though he has a relatively small role, Messina nails his character’s faux affable mien, his best scene being his initial meeting with Marla. Though neither one of them raise their voices nor lose their tempers, the exchange is cloaked in a venomous tension where neither party has the will to back down.

Marla’s bottomless greed and ambition work not only to create an anti-heroic protagonist but are expressions of the narrative’s core theme, the modern deconstruction of the American dream. Though her actions are inexcusable, audiences can at least empathize with Marla’s dream of exorbitant wealth. This is, after all, the promise of the American dream, in that anyone can rise above their station in life to achieve unlimited success. 

The film does imply that Marla did not have the most prosperous start to her life. In pursuing wealth, she disregards the lives she destroys because she understands them only in the monetary value they bring her. “I Care a Lot” makes clear that Marla’s pursuits are an inevitable product of late-stage capitalism.

“I Care a Lot” does what any good film should-leverage an intriguing premise and thrilling visuals to convey an important message to its audience. Its superb script and concise direction are complimented by a talented cast that take what should be unsympathetic monsters and make them into endlessly watchable human beings.

Rating: 8/10 Hawks

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