I’m loathe to go into details about my day job. That’s not what I come here to discuss, and I’m sure it’s not what you come here to read. But in this case, I feel compelled to open with this important disclosure.
I hate long-term hospice facilities. I hate, hate, hate, fucking HATE skilled nursing facilities and long-term hospice facilities. I hate them with a passion. I hate them with a vengeance.
I hate how they’re a happy and pretty facade up front and an administrative nightmare on the back end. I hate how nursing facilities are constantly bought and traded and renamed and shut down by massive conglomerates, such that nobody’s sure which office is responsible for what or when. I hate how every business office employee has two or three different titles, such that everyone’s overworked and nothing gets done and nobody picks up the phone.
Yes, I’ve been told by otherwise trustworthy colleagues that there are indeed legitimate nursing homes out there who run an honest business to look after their patients and employees. Those aren’t the ones I deal with. The nursing homes that I deal with are con jobs, deliberately sabotaging customer service, bending or breaking industry rules and regulations, all to bilk the patients out of their life savings and insurance benefits.
And it’s not just the hospice facilities. Anyone who’s a senior citizen or anyone with older living relatives will tell you that the vultures start circling the minute you come anywhere near retirement age. Real estate agents, funeral homes, Medicare supplement plans, countless salesmen and scam artists all fighting to pick the corpse clean before it’s even stopped breathing. Capitalist predators chasing after our oldest citizens, flooding their mailboxes and blowing up their telephones to drain the cash and assets of those too physically infirm and mentally unreliable to look after themselves.
So here we are with I Care a Lot, in which a con artist chases after helpless senior citizens to seize their wealth and assets, and her grift puts her in the crosshairs of the Russian mafia. Let’s fucking go!
This is the story of Marla Grayson, played by Rosamund Pike. She’s introduced in voice-over, extolling her philosophy that to play fair is to lose a rigged game, it’s a world of predators and prey, and all of life is a zero-sum game in which you’re either getting ahead or getting screwed.
The next scene takes place in a courtroom, where a man (Mr. Feldstrom, played by Macon Blair) is pissed off with Marla, the court-appointed guardian for his mother. Marla puts on an angelic air, talking about how she’s only trying to help an old woman too feeble to take care of herself, Mr. Feldstrom is in no condition to provide the help his mother needs, and she’s only taking enough of Mrs. Feldstrom’s assets to pay for her time and services.
Of course, it doesn’t exactly help Mr. Feldstrom’s case that he’s acting like a senseless violent nutjob, but with his mother forced into the care of a predatory con artist bilking his mom and his family for all they’re worth, it’s hard to blame him.
Through the rest of the first act, we see Marla’s grift in action.
- Sam Rice (Damian Young), the head of a local nursing home, notifies Marla of vacancies in premium high-cost rooms, in exchange for a bribe.
- Dr. Karen Amos (Alicia Witt) notifies Marla of older patients who are right on the borderline where they could potentially be unable to care for themselves. Of course Dr. Amos gets a bribe, with bonuses for patients who are wealthy and/or have no potential heirs.
- Marla arranges for an emergency court hearing, in which Dr. Amos fudges enough symptoms and test results that the patient is placed in Marla’s guardianship without the patient or their lawyers present.
- Marla shows up at the patient’s house with a court order and the police, carting the patient away to Rice’s nursing home.
- Take away the patient’s cell phone, along with any other means of contacting their family or legal counsel.
- Marla takes possession of everything the patient has, selling it to put the money into her own pocket.
It’s important to note that neither Marla, nor the nursing home, nor even the patient’s own doctor is even the least bit interested in the patient’s well-being. Every single one of them is a dishonest shitbag who only sees the patients as walking bags of money. The only well-intentioned player in all of this is the judge (Judge Lomax, played by Isaiah Whitlock, Jr.), here enforcing laws that were ostensibly written to protect people, twisted and perverted for profit by way of human suffering.
Needless to say, I wanted Marla dead as a goddamn hammer by the end of the first act. No way in hell was I going to walk away from this movie until I saw Marla suffer a horribly painful death. And I didn’t exactly come away disappointed, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Anyway, Marla hooks herself a whale: Jennifer Peterson (Dianne West), a 60-something woman with outstanding credit, apparently vast sums of wealth, and no living family. Everything goes according to grift, except for one small problem: Without getting too deep into the weeds, it turns out that Jennifer has ties to the Russian mafia.
Enter Roman Lunyov, played by Peter Dinklage. I won’t get into specifics about how Roman and Jennifer know each other, but it’s enough that Roman is pissed off with Marla for confining Jennifer and subjecting her to such an abusive scam. Especially since Jennifer was entrusted with highly valuable items that Marla is now in possession of.
So on one side, we’ve got a sociopathic bitch who’s well-connected within the legal system, determined to survive at any cost, motivated to become a multi-millionaire so she can rewrite the chauvinist rules of capitalist society instead of getting crushed by them.
On the other side, we’ve got a mob boss played by motherfucking Peter Dinklage.
Gentle readers, we’ve got us a “Bad versus Evil” situation here. These characters are defiantly void of any sympathy, and the both of them are so stupidly proud that they would rather die than admit defeat to anyone. We are here to watch them inflict terrible pain unto each other, escalating their suffering until one of them dies and the other is stuck with some horrible comeuppance. Plus, when the two characters are so evenly matched, holding so much power over each other in addition to their own strengths and assets, it’s genuinely compelling to watch and see which way things will eventually break.
Best of all is that, again, this is Rosamund Pike versus Peter Dinklage. After Gone Girl (hell, ever since Die Another Day), she’s got the “hardass manipulative bitch” persona on lock. And of course Dinklage needs no further introduction. The both of them are playing well within their respective wheelhouses here, and it really is great fun to watch the both of them push each other to up their game until one or both of them (but preferably Marla) dies.
In the supporting cast, we’ve got Eiza Gonzalez in the role of Fran, Marla’s lover and partner in crime. Yes, this is a movie with a gay lead, in which the same-sex relationship isn’t treated as token representation or a central thematic point, but simply an aspect of the character taken for granted. Yes, it’s hard to get around the fact that these particular lesbians are a couple of scam artist shitstains who revel in getting wealthy by screwing over people and their families, but I still respect the incidental nature of their relationship nonetheless.
Anyway, Eiza makes for a perfectly charming and solid backup player for Marla to act off of. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Chris Messina, Isaiah Whitlock Jr., Alicia Witt, and Damian Young, all reliable character actors who turn in fine work.
Still, the MVP of the supporting cast is unquestionably Dianne Wiest. Throughout the course of the film, Wiest is called upon to play her character with varying degrees of lucidity, such that it’s never entirely clear whether she’s really succumbing to dementia, whether she’s been too heavily drugged, or how much she knows. And when Wiest is on point, she’s on fire.
Kudos are also due to Macon Blair, who will surely be the most underappreciated member of the cast. He and Wiest were tasked with illustrating the real human cost of Marla’s ongoing success, and their performances are suitably moving.
More than anything, I’m deeply grateful that I Care a Lot exists. Though it’s common knowledge that our healthcare system is a broken patchwork mess that was made to be abused, this particular aspect of the greater systemic problem has gone largely ignored by our ageist mainstream media. I’m genuinely glad that somebody made a film to talk about predatory capitalists who mercilessly prey on older people who don’t know any better, and I applaud the filmmakers for portraying them as the monsters they are.
This film made me angry, and I hope it makes you angry too. Because if you’re not angry with the system that this movie portrays, then maybe the movie will at least get you to pay attention. I can’t guarantee you’ll have a good time with it, but it’s absolutely a movie that needs to be seen. If nothing else, I hope you’ll have fun with the suspense of watching two remorseless assholes try to end each other.