Must see movie. Rosamund Pike is genuinely hateful in ‘I Care a Lot’

My initial exposure to Rosamund Pike was in the film Gone Girl, the adaptation of  Gillian Flynn’s runaway best seller. Her understated and off kilter performance got my attention. In the intervening years Ms. Pike has made a number of films.  This one has my attention. 

San Francisco Chronicle – Mick LaSalle 2.17.2021

“I Care a Lot” does something difficult. It holds our attention even as it follows a character that we actively dislike and root against. This isn’t a “Richard III” situation, where we’re seduced into cheering on the villain. The villain is genuinely hateful here.

The movie stars Rosamund Pike, who is steadily becoming one of the most interesting actresses in movies, simply by accepting parts like this one. Just in the past few years, she’s played three women driven to death by their work — Marie Colvin in “A Private War,” Marie Curie in “Radioactive” and terrorist Brigitte Kuhlmann in “7 Days in Entebbe.” She’s equally driven here, for a performance that has already won her a Golden Globe nomination.

Pike is nominated for lead actress in a musical or comedy film, and if you can find a laugh (or a musical number) in “I Care a Lot,” be sure to let me know. Pike plays Marla, who is running a very evil scam. She has a legal guardianship business. She finds old people who have no power or influence and has herself appointed their guardian. Then she pays herself a handsome salary by selling off the assets. She does this with the help of corrupt doctors, nursing home operators and one particularly gullible judge.

In an early scene, we see how easy it would be for a judge to believe the word of this highly polished professional woman over some scruffy, emotional next-of-kin. And once the trap closes, it’s all but hopeless: Who seems more demented than an old person yelling and insisting that they’re not crazy?

Rosamund Pike in “I Care a Lot.”Photo: Seacia Pavao , Netflix

“I Care a Lot” (available on Netflix starting Friday, Feb. 19) might have been more unambiguously successful if writer-director J Blakeson had leaned into the comedy, allowing us to watch the action from a distance and regard Marla as more of a force of nature than a malevolent force. But successful movies are delicate mechanisms, and it’s just as possible that an extra push into comedy might have dampened the story’s thriller aspects.

As it stands, “I Care a Lot” keeps us watching from beginning to end, because we keep wanting to know what’s going to happen next. Dianne Wiest has one of her best recent movie roles as one of Marla’s victims, Jennifer. One morning, as she’s sitting in her nice kitchen in her nice house, listening to Debussy — a vision of blissful retirement — there’s a knock at the door, and before she knows it, she’s a prisoner in a state hellhole.

What makes Wiest such fun here is that the woman she plays is not exactly what she seems. The scenes with Marla are some of the best in the movie, in which Jennifer pierces through her with a drugged haze, letting Marla know that she’s picked the wrong woman to mess with.

As a writer, Blakeson understands that no character should be purely functional, and so he gives each character idiosyncrasies and the suggestion of a past history. Then, as a director, he brings those out in the actors. Consequently, “I Care a Lot” is notable for its colorful supporting and featured roles — Chris Messina as a mob lawyer, Peter Dinklage as a Russian mobster and Eiza Gonzalez as Marla’s girlfriend.

But the main attraction is Pike, who doesn’t try to make us like her. She commits to the character’s nature and holds us with her honesty, her intensity and her unmistakable pleasure in getting to play someone appalling.

M“I Care a Lot”: Thriller. Starring Rosamund Pike, Dianne Wiest and Peter Dinklage. Directed by J Blakeson. (R. 118 minutes.) Available on Netflix starting Friday, Feb. 19.