ST. LOUIS — Grifters vs. gangsters! Are you up for it?
While J Blakeson's "I Care a Lot" is a lot more than just bad people facing off against even worse people, it sure is a hoot. Is a film critic allowed to just lead off with that? Calling a film "a hoot" may get me in trouble, but I don't really care.
Should I dive into the Oxford Dictionary for an extra fancy word, so I can in turn force you to look it up yourself? Let's just call this new film, made originally by and just released by Netflix this past weekend, a good time at the movies-from your own couch. Trust me, I've watched it twice.
If I were the streaming giant CEO, I'd be happy with this product already. It's smart, sophisticated, gleefully egotistical, and purely diabolical for just under two hours. Blakeson's film thankfully cares most about the audience, entertaining and surprising us at each and every turn of the plot, like a dealer playing with an extra deck.
Right when you think the pair of grifter femme fatales (Rosamund Pike and a killer Eiza Gonzalez)-who profit off the manipulation of old people with stable finances yet semi-weakening health-have the upper hand on Peter Dinklage's gangster over custody of Jennifer Pederson (Dianne Wiest), the tables turn. Deadly darts fly into legs, tasers surge into chests, and the film pivots on the actions of very bad people.
Yeah, the moral high ground is missing here-and I loved it. Why do all movies have to include that one moronic social justice warrior who trips up the fun of the entire film and gives it unnecessary weight? Blakeson's characters are all deplorable creatures, running on unfiltered greed and egos that stretch the size of an airport runway. Watching Pike and Dinklage, both working at the top of their respective dominant games, fire dialogue at each other like a pair of dragons (no pun intended, Pete) is intoxicating. If Sorkin wrote a con artist film with some mob thrown in, this would be the product.
The script is the juiciest weapon here, because you won't be able to predict who lives and who dies, or more importantly, who wins? In this world, people aren't afraid to die, as long as their hand was raised last. Blakeson has always been a better writer than director, but sometimes they merge perfectly and create something (see "The Disappearance of Alice Creed").
The whole cast packs a punch, but Pike hits the hardest. While Marla carries a few shades of the actress's memorable "Gone Girl" daredevil, she makes sure that Blakeson's creation runs on its own clock. There's a malevolence to Marla's moves that's only matched at times by her vulnerability. If Saul Goodman had a female counterpart, Pike's suit would win the spot. There are times where you root severely against Marla, but you are constantly riveted by her. If it came down to Amy Dunne vs. Marla Grayson, my money would be on the latter. Right when you think the British actress has shown you all her cards, she hits you with something new. That's impressive.
Wiest has been a pro since before Pike was even born, but this is her first standout work in years. Her role in Blakeson's film is central and pivotal, pushing characters to their legal and moral limits. Wiest seems to be having a ball playing a woman who seems nicely feeble at first, but grows more cunning as Jennifer's situation grows weaker. It's great work.
Dinklage just brings it. The man's facial hair could have its own personality, making his powerful man something to fear right off the bat. But the actor throws a couple extra layers in the fray, giving the role more juice and weight than it needs. Some actors don't have to do too much to get the message across; Dinklage is one of them. He has the dials set here at menacing, but just like Marla, his Roman is also very vulnerable. Their stories run in unpredictable directions, often representing the best parts of the film.
The film, like 99% of the cinema, isn't perfect. A few beats towards the end are almost too convoluted, allowing for a little more than coincidence and good timing to get past cinema mind customs. There are moments where I thought there wasn't enough going on and the movie was dragging, or worse pulling its punches a tad-and then the action picked up and overwhelmed the entire operation. But it's all done with an even amount of style and substance, which eases a film over its few speed bumps.
The editing is solid overall, keeping the pace relentless. "I Care a Lot" moves quickly and crams a lot in, sometimes to excess. By the end, though, I was satisfied. I didn't need the "corrupt will eat the innocent and the world is a corporate nightmare" preaching at the beginning and end, but in this genre, it's almost a certainty. As long as the film has a one track mind, fun will be had. Just like its ferocious female lead, "I Care a Lot" is full of pleasant surprises and always entertaining, right up to the very end.
My advice? You don't need to rush to watch this, because it will make you mad in some way, but know that it's a solid bet if you do actually hit PLAY.