Dinklage’s big bad leans into this mythic image of Russian mobsters, with Roman appearing cut from the same cloth as the New Jersey-based operators who could make even Tony Soprano take pause in The Sopranos. Albeit if Dinklage’s character ever actually visited the tough guys in the Garden State, he would probably need to rethink his man-bun. After all, Tony Soprano couldn’t even get away with shorts.
When James Cagney had fist fights in his early films, he was always matched with a bruiser twice his size because the studios thought no one in the audience would accept him being remotely challenged otherwise. Dinklage also doesn’t display a traditionally imposing physical presence. But he is no lightweight. His own thugs cower at the very thought of a cross word. In the Lunyov family, it’s best to bring a gun to a food fight.
Roman’s personal attorney almost wets his briefs when he screws up. That’s because Roman is as unpredictable as Cagney’s Cody Jarrett, the gang leader in White Heat, Cagney’s most psychopathic role. Dinklage’s introduction as Roman shows him asking how many mules died on the last drug run. He calculates them coldly, as part of business, with the sociopathology of a Chief Executive Officer. But his biggest similarity can be found in oedipal complexities. Like Cody Jarrett, Roman Lunyov loves his mother.
We don’t know much about Jennifer Peterson, the nice old lady played by Dianne Wiest. She’s got money, a nice house, no living relatives, and a doctor who will exaggerate dementia symptoms in court for a stock payoff. On the surface Peterson seems to be a competent business woman who retired after a successful career. Now under the less than sensitive care at the Berkshire Oaks Senior Living facility, we realize her chosen field was career criminal. After all, any of these sweet old ladies could have had criminally scandalous youths.
When Marla finally asks her ward who she is, all Jennifer has to say is “I’m the worst mistake you’ll ever make.” We learn she has more than one son in the Russian mob. She could be a post-Glasnostic Ma Barker from the Prohibition era. Barker’s fictional approximation in White Heat, Ma Jarrett (Margaret De Wolfe Wycherly) tells her son she can take care of herself. And while Jennifer may have been declared legally unable to do just that in I Care a Lot, she is quite adept at a choke hold, eschewing the standard garrote assassination for her own elbow.