Producers: Teddy Schwartzman, Ben Stillman and Michael Heimler   Director: J. Blakeson   Screenplay: J. Blakeson   Cast: Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza González, Dianne Wiest, Chris Messina, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Macon Blair, Damian Young, Nicholas Logan and Alicia Witt   Distributor: Netflix

Grade: B-

You can gauge the likelihood that you’ll enjoy this very dark comedy-thriller from J. Blakeson (whose last feature as a director was the inane alien-invasion flick “The 5th Wave”) by asking yourself a simple question: how pleasurable would you find it to spend a couple of hours with a gaggle of frankly contemptible people?  It hard to locate a single redeeming quality among the characters on display in “I Care A Lot”—unless you consider the drive to succeed, whatever the cost, an admirable trait.

Yet there’s enough that’s daring and provocative in the film to make it worth watching, precisely because it will make you uncomfortable.

“I Care A Lot” is so cynical a take on a subject that has become more and more sensitive in the current national climate—elder care—that it will inevitably leave a sour taste. That’s especially true since it’s less funny than a real masterpiece of black satire like “Dr. Strangelove,” whose characters were actually goofy caricatures you could guffaw at for their sheer imbecility.  The characters here, while broad, retain a realistic grounding that makes them less absurd and as a result harder to laugh at—or even to tolerate for long. 

Rosamund Pike brings an unabashed air of amoral greed to Marla Grayson, a stately, steely, unfailingly elegant entrepreneur who has parlayed her undeserved credibility with a bumbling judge (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) into a little empire as legal guardian for well-to-do older folks whose minds are slipping along with their bodies.  Together with her assistant (and lover) Fran (Eiza González), she’s used her influence with venal doctors like Karen Amos (Alicia Witt) and care-home managers like Rice (Damian Young) to assemble a stable of “wards” whose homes and property she’s sold off, supposedly to support their treatment but actually to enrich herself. 

Her latest target, however, turns out to be a problem.  Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) is a patient whom Amos happily certifies as afflicted with onset dementia in return for some shares of valuable stock.  Grayson in turn uses that diagnosis to convince the judge to justify her guardianship of the woman, and to persuade Rice to place her in one of his most expensive rooms as a virtual prisoner.

But Peterson proves not to be the family-free retiree Grayson has assumed.  She has a dangerous protector in diminutive tough guy Roman Lunyon (Peter Dinklage), whose background is only gradually revealed, but who’s willing to deploy not just a shady lawyer named Dean (Chris Messina) but a bunch of thugs led by an obtuse lieutenant named Alexi (Nicholas Logan) to free her from Grayson’s clutches.

It would be unfair to disclose the reasons behind Lunyon’s interest in Peterson, or recount the lengths to which he’ll go to get what he wants, and Grayson to keep what she has.  Suffice it to say that “I Care A Lot” is no lighthearted nursing-home caper comedy like last year’s “Never Too Late,” but a thriller with as hard a heart as its characters, and sequences of violence that wouldn’t be out of place in a Liam Neeson movie.  The fact that you may find it agreeable to see both of them suffer doesn’t change the fact that it’s a wild ride less amusing than nasty.

Moreover if you like this sort of thing you may be disappointed that in the end Blakeson doesn’t have the courage of his convictions, tacking on a coda that brings back a guy named Feldstrom (Macon Blair), who was introduced early on, to mete out some hard justice to one of the malefactors. 

But even if you find the bleakness of the movie’s messages dispiriting, you can admire its craftsmanship—fine work from cinematographer Doug Emmett, production designer Michael Grasley, costumer Deborah Newhall, editor Mark Eckersley and composer Mark Canham—and the quality of its acting.  Pike embodies a sense of smug superiority and callousness, and Dinklage obviously relishes playing the hot-tempered villain.  At first Wiest earns our sympathy, but in time even Jennifer takes a turn to the dark side, and she conveys that with a veteran’s slyness.  The rest of the cast offer good support.

It’s unlikely you’ll end up caring much for any of the characters in “I Care A Lot,” but you may admire Blakeson’s courage in showing us what a bunch of creeps they are—while offering some pointed observations about the realities of the for-profit elder care industry.