The first act of I Care a Lot should terrify any senior citizen or their children. Taking a cue from real events – in particular the crimes of April Parks in Nevada – the film gives us Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike, reviving her Gone Girl ice queen persona), a court-appointed legal guardian who also happens to be a crook. Discovering what she calls a "cherry" in a wealthy, childless old lady named Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), Marla bribes a doctor friend (Alicia Witt) to declare her mentally unsound. And so, one morning, just before settling down with a cup of tea in her cozy little house, Jennifer opens the door to find Marla standing there, informing her that she is to be taken to assisted living immediately. While Jennifer is locked up against her protests, Marla, her girlfriend Fran (Eiza González), and their minions pick her home clean, selling what they can for profit and putting her house on the market.
It's a truly unnerving, enraging series of events. And then the plot kicks in.
As it turns out, Jennifer Peterson has a bag of diamonds worth millions in her safety deposit box. Not only that, but she isn't childless – and she isn't named Jennifer Peterson. In fact she has a son named Roman (Peter Dinklage), a Russian mob boss with a quick temper. (Neither he nor his goons have accents, so it's more like the Russian-American mob.) Hiding from the law, Roman has had his mother's name changed and must visit her in secret. When he finds her gone and her house and safety deposit box emptied out, he learns that Marla is responsible and sends several blunt threats. But the cold and confident Marla doesn't even blink an eye at the thought of being tortured and killed by the mafia. Wholly unapologetic about her greed and ambition, she is simply not giving up those diamonds.
Like Pike, Dinklage is always a welcome presence, and the cat and mouse game their characters play is good mean fun. But it's a shame that the brilliant Wiest gets shunted off to the side for most of the film. I would have loved a version of I Care a Lot that pitted her against Pike directly: a crafty old woman with plenty of tricks up her sleeve.
Nevertheless, I Care a Lot is an original, darkly comic thriller with some good suspense, and Pike provides a wonderfully despicable antihero. (Her sole redeeming quality is that she actually seems to like her girlfriend.) I didn't care at all for an out-of-nowhere plot twist in the third act, however. (The screenplay was written by the director.) It's an intentionally cynical twist, and yet it somehow defangs the film, turning it into a shaggy dog story. I wound up shrugging off the whole thing. Some might enjoy it, though.