de facto film reviews 2.5 stars

Another satire on capitalism and the corruption of the American dream, I Care a Lot is a playful, but deliberately mean-spirited dark comedy about greed and determination that defies audience expectations. A film that examines America’s sickness to status and wealth, from director J Blakeson who has crafted a speedy, amusing, but ultimately redundant film that isn’t saying anything particularly fresh or exciting. Ultimately, the film is more or less a star vehicle for Oscar-nominated actress Rosamund Pike along with a strong supporting cast that consists of Peter Dinklage, Eiza Gonzalez, and Oscar-winning actress Diane Wiest (Bullets Over Broadway). The film is also a speedy dark comedy that is very much in the vein of a Coen Bros. or even Martin McDonagh that offers some sharply written dialogue as well as another anti-hero who double crosses others to triumph her way to success to achieve greater wealth. Seems like an apparent theme as of yet as we have recently watched in Cory Finley’s Bad Education, and in Ramin Bahrani’s The White Tiger. But if anything, the film echoes Gus Van Sant’s 1995 To Die For, which also utilized satire as a condemnation on mass media and the American dream, the film also held a hybrid of snarky dark comedy with pulpy violence.

Except the ideas in Van Sant’s feel more fresh at the time and Nicole Kidman’s character had more nuance and layers, where the ideas in Blakeson’s film feel overly familiar and nowhere near as engaging that never reach any level of empathy. Contrary to Sean Durkin’s vastly superior The Nest, which has more resonant and complex things to say about the viciousness one achieves in achieving the American dream. If anything, the actions the characters create in this film feel one-dimensional in which Blakeson wants to have its cake and eat it too. Sure one could argue that it’s a “cautionary tale” about how individuals would rather participate in a corrupt system and come out as survivors instead of victims, however, it’s hard to find oneself being involved with such vile characters. The film also has very little dignity as it had so many opportunities to dig deeper into our nation’s exploitations of our seniors in the healthcare system, as well as the film hinting at feminism that eventually feels more like routine female wrath that we have already come accustomed to with Pike. While indeed solid here Pike seems to play the cunning and manipulative type effectively well. See her in David Finchers 2014 thriller Gone Girl, and while her performance in I Care a Lot commanding she brings attention to the screen, but it feels almost like a retread of Gone Girl with narration that echoes the same vernacular.

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The film focuses on a legal guardian, Marla Grayson (Pike) opens the film off with Scorsese style narration where she explains the concept of working hard and playing fair is invented by the wealthy to con the poor, and that everyone who rises to the top are indeed the ones that con and swindle others in this Darwinist society. The film from the start rationalizes Marla’s actions as we learn she uses her practice to prey on the elderly to scam them out of their savings and fortunes. There is something almost Trumpian about her actions that echo the themes of greed and conquer.

Her partners in crime are a corrupt doctor, Amos (Alicia Witt), as well as the head of the assisting living home, Sam Rice (Damian Rice), Marla’s assistant and lover Fran, (Eiza Gonzalez), in which they persuade an aloof judge, Lomax (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) in how they are doing this for their patients “health” and “best interest.” Marla works with Amos to write fake documentations that their patients are too ill to take care of themselves so that they Marla can become their legal guardian. This allows for the patients to become coerced by the state to live in a senior living facility as the courts liquefy their belongings, property, and possessions that eventually generate a great standard-of-living for Marla. It’s in these moments where the satire works quite well as Blakeson examines with contempt the horrors of our national healthcare system A system where many profit off destroying livelihoods in many ways how our prisons and military industrial complex operate. Marla rationalizes how these seniors will be exploited by non-caring family members or death taxes anyway, so why not cash in on the profits herself.

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Blakeson holds some sharp dialogue exchanges, especially with Marla and Jennifer (DIane Weist), a woman she recently cons and swindles into a nursing home. However, Jennifer happens to have some mysterious connections with the mafia that is led by a gangster named Roman (Peter Dinklage). The cat-and-mouse between the two women, especially with Jennifer sedated with drugs echoes the work of Elmore Leonard. Their scenes are the best in the film, but sadly Weist disappears and most of the energy from there is focused more on Roman, in which her rivalry between Roman goes into familiar crime movie terrain and other pulpy conventions that feel like pale imitations of Tarantino, McDonagh, and the Coen Bros. What is even more disappointing is how soft the film goes in the final act where the result feels more compromised and tame.

All around the film begins to grow exhausting, with a running time near 120 minutes, the film stays way past its running point. Marla’s character isn’t given quite as much vulnerability or dimension as she could have. Dinklage, while always great commands with amusing menace that carries the film. Misanthropic and cynical, I Care a Lot holds all the ingredients of being a successful dark comedy about the failures of our healthcare system and the corruption of capitalism. Sadly, the film doesn’t pull through as it becomes more implausible and more cartoonish in the final 45 mins or so, brushing over all the promise the film held in the first two acts. Had the film focused more on the dynamics between Weist, Pike, and Dinklage together–the film would have been more accomplished. Instead the film dissolves away from a sharp critique to a hollow and misguided experience.

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