Who’s up for a bloody good time?
The Netflix original movie “I Care a Lot” is a vicious and cheerfully twisted psychological thriller dripping in deception and dread, bathed in pop-art colors and infused with a wickedly dark sense of humor. If you turn off your Plausibility Meter from the moment you see the big red Netflix “N” and hear that “Ta-dummmmmm” sound and keep it off throughout this deliciously nasty and increasingly byzantine tale of cons and crooks and gangsters caught up in a tangled web of criminal deceit, you’re in for a crazy good time.
The British actress Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl,” “A Private War”) once again slips seamlessly into an American accent and delivers a performance alternately icy cool and scalding hot as Marla Grayson, a symphony of blonde bob, tastefully coordinated outfits, spiked heels, designer sunglasses and an ever-present cloud of vape pipe smoke who works as a high-end conservator. In one court appearance after another, Marla advocates for senior citizens who no longer can care for themselves while Marla becomes their guardian and takes control of every facet of their lives — including the liquidation of their assets.
She cares. A lot. That’s what Marla keeps telling the befuddled seniors as they’re hauled away to the Berkshire Oaks Senior Living Facility, as well as the relatives who are prevented from seeing Mom or Grandma or Uncle Pete because it’s too upsetting, not to mention the compassionate but not too perceptive judge (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) who rules in Marla’s favor every time she appears in front of him, supposedly advocating for another poor soul who can no longer take care of herself.
As we quickly learn, Marla couldn’t possibly care less about these senior citizens. She’s a cold-blooded predator, a con artist, a slickly manipulative sociopath who literally covers her office walls with profile pics of current and potential victims.
Here’s how the cons play out. Marla works in precision-like tandem with conspirators including her professional and romantic partner Fran (Eiza Gonzalez); the ethically bankrupt Dr. Karen Amos (Alicia Witt), who signs the paperwork committing senior citizens to care facilities, and the smarmy Sam Rice (Damian Young), who is the director of Berkshire Oaks Senior Living Facility and alerts Marla every time a room becomes available — and also makes sure the residents are heavily medicated, under constant watch and without their cell phones so they can’t make a break for it or try to contact a relative. The appallingly corrupt system works to perfection, as Marla sells off everything her victims own while doling out cuts to her partners in crime.
Enter one Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest, perfection as always), who is what Marla and her ilk call a “cherry” — a wealthy retiree who never married, never had children, has no family of any kind and has exhibited just enough tendencies, e.g., very slight and occasional memory lapses, for Dr. Amos to massage the paperwork and declare them unfit to look after themselves. At the drop of the judge’s gavel, Marla shows up at Jennifer’s doorstep with state troopers looming in the background, informs Jennifer she’ll be taken to her new home at the senior living facility, and then methodically goes about the business of putting Jennifer’s house on the market, auctioning off her possessions and even raiding her safe deposit box at the bank, all under the auspices of a legal and binding agreement.
What. A. Monster.
Pike and Gonzalez make for a great love-to-hate-them tandem; what they’re doing should earn them a special place in hell, yet they clearly relish gaming the system and even seem to be turned on by their criminal triumphs. They’re riding high and raking in the bucks and all seems well in the swindler’s twisted world — and that’s when a high-priced attorney (Chris Messina) who looks like he walked out of a mob movie shows up at Marla’s office and tells her Jennifer has some very powerful friends, and if Marla doesn’t arrange for Jennifer’s freedom, it’s going to get very uncomfortable for her, very quickly.
Peter Dinklage sinks his chops into the role of Roman Lunyov, a temperamental crime boss with a huge personal and professional stake in Jennifer’s release. Even when Roman is holding nothing but an iced latte in his hand, it feels like he’s wielding a lethal weapon. Wiest is fantastically funny as Jennifer, who has been smothered in a cloud of drugs at the facility but is still greatly amused when Marla asks her about the threats she’s been receiving. “Oh … you’re in trouble now,” says Jennifer with a killer smile, and that’s the understatement of the year. Writer-director J Blakeson infuses “I Care a Lot” with an electric, off-the-rails energy, as the story grows ever more violent. It’s as if Quentin Tarantino blew the dust off an old script that was intended for Alfred Hitchcock and gave it a 21st century rewrite, complete with some fantastically entertaining late twists and turns.