When did it become required to saddle evil masterminds with dimwitted associates? One reason this might have happened is because it gives the antagonist an Achilles heal of sorts that the protagonist can exploit in order to thwart their plans of world domination. This phenomenon doesn’t just happen in superhero movies, either. It can be found in plenty of dramas, comedies and and even romantic fluff. What happens, then, when the film is about nothing but “villains”? In Netflix’s new original film, I Care a Lot, both the protagonist and antagonist are criminals in different ways— one has confident, intellectual assistance, the other has the requisite loyal fools.
A lot of actors will say they like playing the villain in a film. It’s pretty much the same with any art form (I wrote a blog about why writing villains is so much fun) because it allows the actor, writer, artist or dancer a bit more freedom to explore different levels of intensity that portraying the hero doesn’t allow. I Care a Lot brings together two exceptional actors who are more than ready to chew the scenery with eccentric passion that remains grounded as much as the bedlam soars.
Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) is an intelligent, conniving thief who has her hooks in the nursing home industry so deep that she easily forces seniors into nursing homes under false pretenses so she can become their legal, state-appointed guardian. This allows her to legally claim their assets as her own, selling everything to “pay” for their “necessary” care. Every move she makes is precisely calculated and she remains cool under pressure, even as she is threatened by family members of patients who see right through her malevolent scheme. It’s the perfect ruse… until she traps Jennifer Peterson (a wonderful Dianne Wiest) in her web of deceit.
Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage) is a snarling, pastry-loving, smoothie-slurping philanthropist who carries every ounce of sadism on his shoulders. Everything he does is done through emotional distress. The film never states outright what Roman does to make his millions, but it is alluded to that at least one of his trades is in human trafficking. That’s not important. What is important is when Roman finds out that not only Jennifer but his precious stash of diamonds she was holding for him have gone missing. This puts a craw in Roman’s back and he won’t stop until he takes care of those who would dare cross him.
Writer/Director J Blakeson does a terrific job of creating these characters and allowing Pike and Dinklage to make them into fully-fleshed-out individuals. We aren’t necessarily supposed to be rooting for either character, as they are both filthy monsters, but each one brings so much depth, we can’t help but feel emotionally tied to their desires and their missions of becoming, and/or staying rich no matter the cost. So who are we rooting for overall to win in the end? Because the story revolves around Marla and her girlfriend’s (Eiza González) push to become rich and powerful, Roman and his motley crew of bumbling fools consequentially becomes the antagonist to Marla’s protagonist.
Where the film loses a bit of steam is in the middle of the muddled second act, where it’s clear that Dinklage’s associates are too ludicrously dumb to be believable. This includes his lawyer (Chris Messina), who based on the development of the character, should be much more cunning than Marla, but comes off as a guppy to her dasterdly shark. Pike and Dinklage are so good in comparison, that this inauspicious idiocy hinders the film from reaching the potential these two stalwarts demand. Because of their tremendous presence, the shenanigans that occur whenever Roman’s cohorts are on screen brings the film’s maturity level down a notch.
It’s not just that; the second act also grows weary as the cat-and-mouse game between Marla and Roman simmers in tangled escapades that don’t necessarily have all that much weight to them. There is an electricity when Pike and Dinklage do get to share screen time together, though, so that does make up for the slip into more irrational ideas. I would also have liked to have seen more depth built in and around the inner workings and ramifications of both trafficking and medical kidnapping. The idea that these two people are one-in-the same is intriguing. They are both working in the same dark waters, one is just doing so legally. Getting to explore that more would have elevated this film beyond just another villainous thriller.
By the time the third act rolls around and we see the cruel games played between the two characters come to an end, the ultimate finality is a bit predictable and I’m not sure the last few moments hit home the way it was intended. Nevertheless, because of Pike and Dinklage, I Care a Lot has a lot of power and gravitas (and some nice dark humor) to it, even as we are rooting for both characters to eventually get their comeuppance.
My Grade: A-
Flora and Ulysses falls into the trap that many children’s films fall into — talking down to their young audience. This silly, throwaway look into finding super-heroic characteristics in even the smallest and least likely of entities to help us cope with reality has some nice touches, but includes too many scenes of loony characters doing off-the-wall cartoon antics, keeping it from becoming a true, authentic adventure. Listen to my full (SPOILER) review of Flora & Ulysses on Ramblin’ Reviews: B
Though it has a top-tier cast that includes Jodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch, The Mauritanian splits its time between the prisoner’s (Tahar Rahim) experiences in Guantanamo Bay and the fight to get his name cleared so erratically that it doesn’t resonate as either a legal drama or a prisoner drama; both sides felt as if they were missing something, and that’s where the film ultimately fails to convey a compelling story. B
Next week, new movies include Tom and Jerry and The United States vs. Billie Holiday (Hulu). If you would like to see a review for this, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.