joolsd’s review published on Letterboxd:
“The backstory of Marla is that she had a vape business until she was Walmart-ed out of business by a great big discount vape store opening across the street, which she was furious about. I think that was her shot at the American dream played fair. She had a small-time business, she was a small-time business owner, she got screwed and then she thought, ‘Right. Chips are down. I’m going all out. I’m gonna play the system like everybody else.’ And I think every time she inhales, it’s bringing that attitude to it. It’s the attitude of having been screwed and now you’re out to screw everybody.”
Really a masterclass in how a few good performances and one excellent performance canT potentially rescue what should be an excrutiating car-crash. The strangest about Rosamund Pike's astoundingly granitic turn as the sociopathic Marla is that it is occurring in a vacuum: we know nothing about this woman other than that she is a monster who uses court-ordered guardianships to screw elderly people out of their money. We receive no sense of how she ended up running this scam to start with, and we also have no real idea of how or why she manages to turn into a Michael Mann protagonist (and I don't mean one of the conflicted ones, I'm talking Tom Cruise in Collateral level) about halfway through the film. It's great to know from Pike (quoted above) that there is a reason that she is toting around a lightsaber of a vape rig for most of the film - which the camera, for some reason, loves, by the way - but we are left in the dark about everything else.
Peter Dinklage is the one weak spot as far as casting goes: I am given to understand that he was excellent as a Machiavellian political operator in Game of Thrones, but this does not carry over here into being convincingly physically intimidating. There is also a one point where he puts on a large pair of dark sunglasses for a low profile bank visit. I will leave the limitations of that disguise for the reader to consider. Dinklage's vape equivalent is chocolate eclairs, of which we are granted a near-pornographic shot soon after his introduction. Then we don't see them again, at all, until the end of the film. That kind of foible would be lazy characterisation, but at least it would be something.
The odd characterisation (which I stress is a separate problem entirely from the acting itself) is one example of wider problems: the film has a sometimes unsettlingly uneven tone. Pike as girlboss parody is obvious; but she is so odious that even the ironic identification that the insistent and sometimes intrusive score seems to expect from the viewer is basically impossible: it just ends up appearing strange. Were there any sense of camp, this could still be fun, but there is none in evidence until the last 8 minutes of the film. The only vaguely similar tonal shift I can think of is at the end of Observe and Report, a far superior film, because it realises that it is far easier to be funny and then dark, than try to shift constantly between the two. Even then, the (horribly edited) end of the film has them shift gears constantly with little use of the clutch in evidence.
It is absolutely to Pike's credit that she spins this incredibly dubious material into, if not gold, at least something shiny and enjoyable to look at. Rosamund Pike-as-psycho is practically a genre at this point, but it'd be nice to see her in something soon where that granite is put to better use.