Congratulations to David Fincher for watching Rosamund Pike in Pride & Prejudice like the rest of us, but being the only one to notice that she had a hint of mania in her eyes. Had it not been for Fincher, who famously cast Pike against type in Gone Girl, Hollywood might have pigeonholed her into forgettable action sequels, or playing sharply dressed attorneys opposite whichever white male was hot at the moment.
We most certainly wouldn't have had the pleasure of watching her flex her inner psychopath in director J Blakeson's I Care a Lot, out on Netflix, and in certain other territories on Amazon Prime Video. Equal parts Fincher noir and Guy Ritchie caper, I Care a Lot is precisely the sort of film that Blakeson should've made after his phenomenal debut, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, had he not been sidetracked by the allure of a possible Hollywood franchise.
Like The Disappearance of Alice Creed, which incidentally also starred a former Bond girl (Gemma Arterton), I Care a Lot is a mashup of many genres. It begins as a dark comedy about a scheming woman, turns into a crime movie midway through, and towards the end, blossoms into a full-blown satire.
Ros Pike plays a high-stakes grifter named Marla, who scams unsuspecting old people by having them declared unfit to take care of themselves, and subsequently assumes their guardianship. Once the poor old folks are under her care, she takes over their assets and proceeds to rob them of their life savings. She carries out her operation in broad daylight, working within legal parameters as much as possible, which is something that Blakeson highlights regularly — Marla is able to get away with her scam not by slipping under the radar, but by walking confidently through loopholes in the law.
Even though most of the elderly that she zeroes in on are fully capable of taking care of themselves, they're eventually rendered helpless after all — by the same machinery that should be protecting them. Marla has, at her disposal, corrupt men and women working within the judiciary, the healthcare sector, and even the assisted living facility where she transfers her prey. Everyone gets a slice of the pie. But Marla gets the biggest.
Things quickly go south for her, however, when her newest victim turns out to be the mother of a Russian gangster, played by Peter Dinklage. She is presented with two options: take a hefty bribe and release the woman from her clutches, or risk losing her life. "There are two kinds of people in this world: lions and lambs," Marla says in her opening narration, almost as if she is channeling Balram Halwai from The White Tiger. And after pausing for effect, she continues, "I am not a lamb. I am a f**king lioness." It is with this ruthlessness that she decides to ignore open threats, and instead extort the gangster for $10 million.
I Care a Lot belongs to the Gillian Flynn school of feminism, which proposes, rather boldly, that the act of taking back control in a male-dominated society shouldn't be reserved for honourable women. Because after all, there's a gender imbalance in the world of villainy, too.
And so, it is brave of Blakeson to not give Marla any redeeming qualities. There are hints of a traumatic past, but crucially, there's no smirking Ben Affleck to actively root against this time. We are never shown a sappy flashback of Marla's suffering, and if you get distracted at the wrong moment, you might miss her off-hand comments about being threatened by men in the past. Miraculously, though, Pike and Blakeson pull off the near-impossible, and convince you to form an alliance with a psychopath.
This isn't the 'subversion on a massive level' that director Quentin Tarantino spoke about in a recent podcast, when he applauded what director Todd Phillips had similarly achieved in the final moments of Joker. That film earned the audience's sympathies by putting its 'hero' through nearly two hours of sustained abuse. Neither is this like Kill Bill. We never see Marla's 'origin story' at all.
And that is the film's greatest success. I Care a Lot is a devilishly entertaining film, featuring a central performance that simply steamrolls over any and all narrative creases. Let us now pray that they don't reward Blakeson with a Marvel project.