It puts paid to the idea that you need a likeable protagonist. Everybody in this film is morally bankrupt, not least Rosamund Pike’s care mogul Marla Grayson. Marla has a good hustle. She seeks out rich, vulnerable old people, gets her doctor-friend to exaggerate their vulnerability, then arranges a legal intervention by which she becomes that person’s legal guardian and puts them away in a care home. Their real home, meanwhile, is left vacant and in the hands of Marla, able to do with it as she pleases.
It is a brilliant setup that the second half of the film can’t quite match
How can she get away with such despicable behaviour? Well, Marla is effortlessly attractive: tall, confident and with the most winning of Cheshire Cat grins. No, Marla’s got it sorted, is living the American dream, until she tries her hustle on Dianne Wiest’s Jennifer Peterson. She seems the perfect target – no family, very wealthy – and, at first, everything goes swimmingly.
But what Marla’s research hasn’t pulled up is that Jennifer is actually the mother of a Russian mafia boss (Peter Dinklage) and when this mommy-loving gangster finds out that Jennifer has been put away in a care home, he is determined to get her out of there and take revenge on Marla.
It is a brilliant setup that the second half of the film can’t quite match, and things do turn a little generic and predictable towards the end. What sustains it throughout, though, are the performances. Pike is brilliant: magnetically malevolent and totally committed. Dinklage, too, exudes danger, keeping what could have been a Coen Brothers-esque caricature just on the right side of kooky. And I really enjoyed Chris Messina’s spivvy lawyer.
But it is Dianne Wiest who has the hardest job; her vulnerable old lady having to become more and more threatening as her past is uncovered. One sympathises. The scene in which she is removed from her home and put in one of Marla’s care facilities is terrifying, the low-angle shots making her captors loom menacingly, the slow-motion camerawork exposing their fake concern for the act that it really is. What is scariest of all is that scams like this are really happening. Yes, really!
Hopefully when this pandemic is over we will talk about that, because this film really deserves a life after Covid. Writer-director J Blakeson is a great talent.