HomeMoviesI Care a Lot's Brand of Pulpy Neo-Noir is Bit of an...

I Care a Lot’s Brand of Pulpy Neo-Noir is Bit of an Acquired Taste

Rosamund Pike as Marla in I Care a Lot
Photo Credit: Netflix

How many movies truly try to make their characters utterly despicable and unrelatable? Oh, there are plenty of movies with main characters who are bad people, sure. Anti-heroes are practically the norm now, and outright villain protagonists aren’t uncommon. But they’re never all bad. There’s usually some pathos, some sympathetic hook to make you root for them in the end. Not so in I Care a Lot.

I Care a Lot is a movie committed to crafting the most amoral protagonist possible, and then introducing an antagonist every bit as monstrous—if not more so. Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) is a woman who makes a living as a professional guardian for the elderly and then swindling them out of their savings. Her life takes a dramatic turn when she ends up pulling her con on a woman with an unexpected connection to a ruthless mobster (Peter Dinklage). What results is a fascinating dance where you’re rooting interest constantly shifts and slides–not because one side becomes more human–but because the characters descend deeper and deeper into scummy depths that repulse you into wanting to see them lose. This inversion of the usual formula takes some adjusting, but once you settle into it, there is plenty of pulpy pleasure to be had. There is a certain thrill to seeing someone prevail with nothing but their wits, determination, and willingness to be completely monstrous, and turning two such monsters against each other means getting that thrill twice as often.

The plot itself is as twisting and knotted as this dynamic, slowly revealing itself in well-executed turns. It’s a neo-noir in the truest sense, taking the propulsive plot of the best old potboilers and crafting a grimy tale of crime and capitalism. It picks up the pitch black humor of many modern neo-noirs as well, finding a surprising amount of laughs while plumbing the depths of its characters’ inhumanity. Of course, by its very nature, this can make it a little hard to stomach at first. The irreverent tone and Marla’s reprehensible actions in the opening act, before she has another proper villain to play off of, could easily put someone off before their sensibilities adjust accordingly. And with such a twisting plot, that opening act takes a while to really get going and introduce the conflict, lengthening the time a more squeamish viewer has to bear.

It helps that there are two such strong performances anchoring the proceedings. Peter Dinklage gets less screentime, but he makes very effective use of what he does get. With the steely-eyed gaze he perfected on Game of Thrones, he projects such an air of menace that he makes a scene tense just by standing in stony silence. Rosamund Pike is the star though, and her performance is satisfyingly splashy. She plays both sides of Marla–cloying charm in public and cold-hearted ambition in private–with such verve that it’s easy to see how the character could fool so many. Eiza Gonzalez’s more low-key performance as Marla’s partner Fran shouldn’t be overlooked though! She anchors many of Pike’s scenes, giving her a willing partner to bounce off of, and the chemistry between them is electric.

Like black coffee, the pulpy thrills and similarly-hued comedy of I Care a Lot are somewhat of an acquired taste. It’s difficult to blame anyone who can’t tolerate its intentionally repugnant characters long enough to find the fun. But for those who love a sordid tale filled with sleaze and sliminess, it’s one of the better neo-noirs of recent years. Charming, tightly written, wonderfully acted, and with just enough of a satirical sting to leave an impression, it makes for an evening so enjoyable that you won’t even mind having to hop in the shower to wash off that skeezy feeling after you’re done.

I Care a Lot is now streaming on Netflix.

Chris Diggins
Chris Digginshttps://alittleperspective.substack.com
"Lord" Chris Diggins, "Grand Prognosticator of ThePopBreak.com" is a staff writer and incorrigible layabout for The Pop Break. He usually reviews TV and movies, although he sometimes writes ludicrously long pieces of critical analysis and badgers the editors to publish it. He cannot be stopped.

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