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I CARE A LOT: 3 ½ STARS. “a truly mean-spirited movie that ends with a bang.”

In an early scene in “I Care a Lot,” the new thriller starring Rosamund Pike as professional legal guardian to the elderly Marla Grayson, says “I care. I care a lot,” referring to her wards, but it soon becomes clear that she really only cares for one thing. Money.

If you were to look up the word irredeemable in the dictionary you may well find a picture of Marla Grayson alongside the definition. She is an elegantly dressed, smiling viper who takes advantage of the old and infirm for profit. She’s a court appointed guardian who swoops in, cuts off family members as she sequesters her wards in care homes that feel more like prisons while she siphons their bank accounts and sells their homes to cover her exorbitant fees.

When Grayson and girlfriend Fran (Eiza González) pay off Dr. Karen Amos (Alicia Witt),a  crooked doctor who gussies up medical records so Grayson Guardianship can take control of her patient’s lives.

On the face of it their latest mark, Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), seems like a perfect victim. Wealthy and without family, she’s vulnerable and just waiting to be bilked. Or is she? Turns out Jennifer has some secrets, and worse than that, some very important and dangerous friends. “I’m the worst mistake you’ll ever make,” Jennifer hisses at Marla.

With stories of elder abuse making front page news far too often, “I Care a Lot” provides a modicum of revenge, turning the tables in a delicious way.

Pike revisits the cold and calculating character that won her raves in “Gone Girl” but ups the ante to plumb the depths of depravity. To describe the predatory Marla as a shark does a disservice to Great Whites. “Playing fair. Being scared, that gets you nowhere,” she says. “That gets you beat.” Seemingly born without a heart, she masks her viciousness with a veneer of professionalism and her well-practised mantra of “I care, a lot.” Pike is clearly having fun here playing cold and calculating, but never resorts to the usual villain schtick. Her composure is disarming but, like an Oleander bloom, cut her and she bleeds poison.

Wiest is devilishly engaging as a woman with secrets and Peter Dinklage brings a barely contained rage to his role (NO SPOILERS HERE) but it is Pike who dominates.

“I Care a Lot” is a rarity, a truly mean-spirited movie where the best you can do is find yourself rooting for the least terrible person to persevere. It sags in the last half hour, becoming slightly more conventional but ends with a bang.

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