The Weekend Australian - Review

Predator lives the American dream

- Amazon Prime Stephen Romei

Wow. I Care a Lot, written and directed by English filmmaker J. Blakeson and starring Rosamund Pike, Eliza Gonzalez, Peter Dinklage and Oscar winner Dianne Wiest, is one of the best films I have seen of late.

It is almost as good as Emerald Fennell’s A Promising Young Woman, which I think will be in Oscar contention. And, when it comes to an exploratio­n of our moral and ethical framework, it is even darker and bleaker than that dark, bleak film about “date” rape and revenge.

Indeed, I think it should be called a horror story. It is certainly a story for our times. It is about power: how to get it for yourself and how to take it away from others. It is about money. It is about exploiting the vulnerable.

In one scene, an expensive, shifty lawyer (an excellent Chris Messina) tells the main character, Marla Grayson (Pike), that she is living the American dream in this day and age. This is what he is talking about: making money by ripping off the elderly.

The movie opens with a voiceover from Marla in which she laughs off the idea that “working hard and playing fair leads to success and happiness”. She says there are only two types of people in the world: predator and prey.

“My name is Marla Grayson and I am not a lamb. I am a f--king lioness.”

We move to a courtroom and see the lioness in action. Red dress, red lipstick, sharp blonde

I CARE A LOT bbbbv

fringe. This is what she does: she convinces an easy-to-convince family court judge (Isiah Whitlock Jr) to make her the legal guardian of elderly people, even ones with relatives.

She targets the rich, the ones she can fleece of everything they own.

“This is what I do all day, every day: I care,’’ she tells the judge. She protects the elderly from “apathy, from their pride and sometimes from their own children”.

She does this with the co-operation of doctors and nursing home administra­tors. They are on her payroll.

Outside the courthouse, she is confronted by the son of a woman in her “care”. She laughs him off, too. ‘‘Having a penis doesn’t make you more scary than me.”

Then we see her in her office, standing in front of a wall full of headshot photograph­s of her “clients”. It looks like an investigat­ion room from a police series. She receives a call informing her one of them has died. She is disappoint­ed, for commercial reasons. “I only had him six months. I thought he’d last five years.” That “milk cow” stopped producing too soon.

Her disappoint­ment evaporates when her business partner and lover, Fran (Gonzalez), comes in with news of a “bona fide cherry”: a rich elderly woman with no husband, no children, no living relatives. Her name is Jennifer Petersen (Wiest). Marla checks the details and says, “Pull the trigger on Jennifer Petersen.”

All of this happens in the first 20 minutes of this gripping 118-minute film. Everything that happens feels so close to possible that it is unnerving. You will want to put it in the This Can’t be True box. Pike, who has been nominated for a Golden Globe, is remarkable in this portrayal of a deeply horrible person.

And this is only the start. Wiest just about

steals the show as the woman removed from her home and imprisoned in a nursing home. No phone, no visitors.

The legal guardian calls all the shots.

And then a man enters the story and the movie moves into full drama. I will not say his name because we are now at the point where plot spoilers — this is a thriller with twists upon twists — must be avoided.

Let’s just say that the cut and jib of this man (Dinklage, best known as the dwarf Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones), made me think of a very short Rasputin. We soon learn he has a connection to Jennifer Petersen, and that she is not quite who she seems.

When Marla asks her to own up to who she is, the old woman looks at her calmly and says quietly, “I am the worst mistake you’ll ever make.”

I thought she might be a Nazi. Early on, Marla says, of the elderly in general, “Even sadistic, immoral assholes get old.” Whether I was right is for viewers to find out.

This is a film that will keep viewers guessing through. The script is excellent, especially the dialogue. Marla says she wants to make a fortune so she can “use money as a weapon like real rich people do”. The acting is superb. The ending is a shock.

And this bit is uncommon. I think most if not all viewers will hope that the characters cop what the deserve. Not just Marla and Fran and the dodgy doctors and corrupt aged home administra­tors, but all of them.

DAYS OF THE BAGNOLD SUMMER (M)

Limited cinema release David Stratton bbbbv

The curious title of this very likeable British film refers to the names of the mother and son around whom the tart comedy revolves. Susan Bagnold (Monica Dolan), who is in her early 50s, lives in an English suburb with her 15-year-old son, Daniel (Earl Cave).

Susan has been abandoned by her husband who now lives in Florida with his new, younger, wife, and — she’s amazed to hear — drives a convertibl­e. Susan works in a library and has few social contacts apart from her caring sister, Carol (Alice Lowe), and Astrid (Tamsin Greig), the talkative mother of Daniel’s best friend, Ky (Elliot Speller-Gillott).

Daniel, with his long hair and scruffy appearance, is a metalhead. He’s lazy, churlish and monosyllab­ic, but he’s looking forward to spending the summer with his dad in the US. That prospect ends abruptly when dad phones to call it off, using as an excuse his pregnant wife’s imminent delivery date. So Daniel and his mum have to spend the summer alone.

I’m sure in Days of the Bagnold Summer many will recognise teenagers like Daniel who are so self-absorbed that they have little to contribute. He has dreams of singing in a band and is encouraged by the gangling, engaging Ky; but the band to whose ad he responds turns out to be a trio of 10-year-olds.

Susan, meanwhile, who dresses in dowdy cardigans and wears thick glasses, is invited on a dinner date by Douglas Porter (Rob Brydon), Daniel’s history teacher. Daniel is appalled at the thought of his mum and his teacher getting together, but he needn’t worry because things don’t turn out too well.

In essence, this film — based on a graphic novel by Joff Winterhart, scripted by Lisa Owens and beautifull­y directed by Simon Bird — is about the slowly growing bond between mother and son. Simon Tindall’s strikingly dramatic widescreen photograph­y is extremely impressive, but it’s the performanc­es, and the truths inherent in the drama, that linger in the mind.

 ??  ?? Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) with a wall full of elderly people in her ‘care’
Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) with a wall full of elderly people in her ‘care’

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