When it comes to a movie like I Care a Lot, there will inevitably be the claims that it’s a criticism of capitalism. And that is precisely what we see in many of the reviews of this — at best — mediocre movie. And this is no doubt why this poorly-written movie received Golden Globe nominations, and why Rosamund Pike (who plays the sociopathic protagonist Marla Grayson, a professional guardian who exploits the legal system) won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical (was it a comedy? it seemed to have a hard time making up its mind about that). Rosamund Pike does at least manage to get the message of the movie right: it’s a critique of the American legal system. And that’s a very different thing from capitalism.
Capitalism is an economic system in which capital is what drives the system. Typically, people think of capitalism as a system with free markets, private property, and privately-held capital; however, capitalism can also include varying degrees of regulation, the possibility of complete government control over certain sectors of the economy (e.g., health care, postal service, rail service, etc.), and even potentially government control of capital itself (as J.M. Keynes wanted). Too often, then, the critics of capitalism simply mean “something I don’t like” when they use the term “capitalism,” rather than actually meaning something specific that would be identifiable by most economists. Worse, those critics’ past solutions have typically created the current problems they now criticize.
The fact of the matter is, I Care a Lot doesn’t have to be set in the United States, with our extremely highly-regulated systems of health care and elderly care. No, this movie could just as easily have taken place in Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, or Russia (where the Russian mafia of the film would have simply been called the Mafia). What would have changed? Nothing. Except, perhaps, the corruption the movie shows would have been somewhat more internalized in some other countries.
While the corrupt doctor and nursing home director and professional guardian in the movie are driven primarily by money, it’s not the money itself which is corrupt or corrupting. There are plenty of people — the vast majority of people, in fact — who do not get corrupted by money, no matter to what degree they pursue it. Power, too, is corrupting, and one could easily imagine a system in which political power was what was gained by the doctor, director, and guardian. In this particular movie, the judge appeared to be an unwitting participant, simply following the law and his apparent experience with this particular professional guardian; however, in a less mixed system, the judge would have been equally corrupted — and it’s certainly not impossible to imagine the movie having the judge paid off as well. We have to remember Lord Acton’s axiom that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Money, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily tend to corrupt — rather, it is the corrupt who tend to corrupt money.
The bottom line, as the movie makes clear, is that we have a very messed-up legal system. No system should be able to have a single expert testify to a person’s mental state — and yet, I know for a fact that the U.S. legal system does do exactly that. For example, I tried to get S.S.I. because I’m autistic and have had a history of having a hard time getting and keeping jobs (a trend thankfully ended with my current job). The courts had me go to a single psychiatrist, who spent less than an hour assessing me, to determine my eligibility. If they are willing to make a decision based on such flimsy evidence, there is little doubt that they would take the word of a person’s long-term doctor.
I would argue that in each case, there should be at least three experts involved before a legal decision could be made — in the case of deciding whether or not to appoint a professional guardian, not only should the patient’s doctor be involved, but the patient should also be assessed by at least two court-appointed doctors. In a system in which there is a presumption of innocence, there should also be an assumption of competence — meaning, if any one of the doctors in question declared the patient competent, the patient should be competent. Further, the patient should always be made a participant in the proceedings. Much can be learned by the presence of the person him/herself.
Another disturbing aspect of the legal proceedings was the fact that the only evidence provided was from the doctor. More, it was based on the doctor saying there was a “potential” for there to be problems. There had in fact been no problems of note for the main victim of the film (Jennifer Peterson, played by Dianne West), just a stated potential for problems. In nothing else could one have one’s life taken over for a mere potential of a problem. You actually have to have done something concrete in order to find oneself in a mental hospital, for example. You have to have demonstrated that you are in fact a threat to yourself or others. Not, apparently, if you are over a certain age.
Unfortunately for this film, social commentary seems to be one of its only redeeming virtues. The actors are all very good, but they are also the only aspect of the film that makes it watchable. (Social commentary is actually a hurdle to be overcome when it comes to artworks — every other aspect of the film must be excellent to overcome it.) The plot, for example, was beyond predictable. The moment the head of the mafia was introduced, I knew that there was going to be a detent between him and Marla. And of course, it being an American movie, it had to end with her comeuppance. In-between, though, we had Marla performing superhuman feats of bravado (even for a sociopath), skills, and strength in overcoming her situations with the Russian mafia. It was simply unbelievable that she wouldn’t have been scared to die (even if part of it was due to her general contempt for men, which she expressed at the beginning of the film), that she could have broken out of the submerged car, or that she could have pulled off kidnapping the head of the Russian mafia. None of this was believable in the least.
One of the few redeeming features was the fact that Marla and Fran were in a relationship without the film making a big deal of it — indeed, neither were remotely romanticized, neither were made redeemable by their being lesbians, and the writers weren’t afraid to make lesbians into truly despicable characters (and all without making the fact that they were lesbians part of their despicableness). In other words, they were standard characters who happened to be lesbians, but who just as easily could not have been, without any fundamental change to the story itself. I found that aspect to be quite refreshing. The same could be said of Peter Dinklage’s physical features and the particular character he played. Other actors could have played the part without a single change to the script — though we wouldn’t have enjoyed Dinklage’s acting (he does play a good mafia boss).
I Care a Lot could have been a good film. Unfortunately, the writers didn’t seem to know how to make it a good film. The idea was there, but they didn’t seem to know how to make Marla reach a detent with the mafia boss without her being a superhuman being. Further, the film couldn’t decide if it was a comedy or a drama or an action film — and it failed at all three as a result. Marla was someone you could not sympathize with at all, and you mostly feel disgusted that she might actually continue to get away with what she’s doing. The mafia boss is also a pretty terrible human being (he IS a mafia boss, after all), but no matter how sociopathic he may be, you still end up rooting for him. He is, after all, absolutely in the right on this. And he does try to pay her off and use the legal system before anything else. There’s certainly nothing wrong with having a story in which there are nothing but villains, but to do so you still have to have some connection to the protagonist, and this movie doesn’t provide that. All this movie provides is disgust at the characters and the system — and the only person who does in fact care gets arrested for first degree murder at the very end of the movie. All of this mediocrity and poor writing for social commentary? It’s simply not worth it.