Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5
USA/United Kingdom, 2020. Black Bear Pictures, Crimple Beck. Screenplay by J Blakeson. Cinematography by Doug Emmett. Produced by J Blakeson, Michael Heimler, Teddy Schwarzman, Ben Stillman. Music by Marc Canham. Production Design by Michael Grasley. Costume Design by Deborah Newhall. Film Editing by Mark Eckersley. American Cinema Editors Award 2020. Golden Globe Awards 2020. Toronto International Film Festival 2020.
The moment you see her haircut, you know you’re in for a villainous treat: a razor-sharp bob that falls with such perfect, uncomplicated and untangled ease is the hairstyle that only a ruthless woman will sport, and if that doesn’t convince you, the designer wardrobe and impossibly high heels will. Marla Grayson’s job is advocacy and care for senior citizens who cannot take care of themselves, which couldn’t possibly be lucrative enough to make her dress like a six figure lawyer, but then you forget that with the increase in privatization of what should be regulated industries, rules are in the eye of the beholder. Besides, you have never seen anyone pursue the care of others with such determination as she does. Overseeing the estates of those who have been declared mentally incompetent by their doctors, Marla (Rosamund Pike) takes over their finances, sells their houses and possessions and uses the money to put them in expensive care homes (but actually pockets a good deal of the profit for herself). She’s got a dedicated assistant who is also her lover (Eiza González), she has a crooked doctor (Alicia Witt) in her pocket and a greedy senior-home director (Damian Young) who is happy to do what she wants. She is unstoppable, family members of her clients are unable to get around her in court, and viewers will have a hard time deciding how to feel about her: on the one hand she’s evil and manipulative, but isn’t succeeding against the odds what we want from our modern-day career gals? Grayson has it all figured out until a prime candidate falls in her lap who is such a “cherry” that she mistakenly ignores the fact that she’s too good to be true: Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) is approaching her seventies, lives alone, has no family and is flush with cash and property, and Marla gets doctor Witt to declare her incompetent, dragging Jennifer through the hell of being taken out of her own home, locked up in Young’s fancy facility and denied access to her cellphone. Selling her home and possessions and raiding Jennifer’s safety deposit box, Marla discovers a hidden cache of diamonds and believes she has hit the jackpot; what she doesn’t know is that Jennifer is actually connected to a Russian mobster (Peter Dinklage) and the heat coming her way is something she has never had to outmaneuver before. It’s such juicy fun to anticipate the retribution that is coming towards this truly villainous character, possibly the most effective female anti-hero in recent cinematic history, but never assume that the last twist has been played, because when it comes to making sure she wins, you’ve never met anyone more determined to do so. Sure, the mob can put a lot of physical pressure on her, even rub out some of her associates, but can they wipe that smug, self-satisfied grin off her face? That’s for you to find out in this thrilling, dangerous and wholly satisfying exercise in amorality that reminds us that the first rule about succeeding in America is to do so at all costs, and if the promise of economic gain makes for strange bedfellows, then so be it. Directed with style and strength, the film shows Pike off at her unapologetic best, having her commit an injustice against the woman who has for decades been the most beloved character actress in movies (I mean, you’re abusing Edward Scissorhands‘ mother here) before she dares us to admire her for making it as far as she does. A delicious film that is truly unpredictable and emotionally involving.