2020, R, 104 min. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Starring Steve Coogan, Isla Fisher, Shirley Henderson, David Mitchell, Asa Butterfield, Dinita Gohil, Sophie Cookson, Jamie Blackley, Shanina Shaik, Sarah Solemani.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 6, 2020
The latest film by the prolific and iconoclastic English director Michael Winterbottom reunites him with one of his frequent collaborators, Steve Coogan, who stars as Richard McCreadie, a morally bankrupt retailer of discount clothing. Beginning with the obvious title and a billionaire protagonist named Rich “Greedy” McCreadie, the film is a satire devoid of subtlety. A comic figure, whose fake enhancements include a deep tan and blistering white chompers, McCreadie is a scummy cheap-fashion entrepreneur whose profits have been built on tax scams, cutthroat business deals, and foreign sweatshop labor. His personal history is presented in pop-newsreel fashion at the beginning of the film. Like Sir Philip Green, the actual discount-fashion mogul of Topshop and other chains on whom this fictional character is based, McCreadie was also called to Parliament to be quizzed about his business practices. Nevertheless, the trail of sleaze that follows McCreadie only serves to grease the path for fawning sycophants and freeloaders who slide ever-faithfully behind his every step.
The setting is the island of Mykonos, where McCreadie and Samantha (Fisher), his ex-wife and business partner, are hosting the tycoon’s 60th birthday party. The elaborate event is a toga party based on McCreadie’s favorite film Gladiator, for which an amphitheatre is being built and a caged tiger flown in for laughs. (It would all seem impossibly ridiculous except for the fact that Sir Philip Green held a similar party on Cyprus in honor of his 50th birthday.) Marring the festivities for McCreadie are the Syrian refugees camped out on the beach in full view of his guests. Everyone prances around in togas while McCreadie’s reality-star daughter films upcoming scenes, his snubbed teen son lusts after his father’s trophy girlfriend, an obsequious biographer trails after his subject, and celebrity look-alikes are flown in to spike appearances. Coogan, Fisher, and another Winterbottom regular, Shirley Henderson (as McCreadie’s mother), deliver some surefire laughs, while employee Melanie (Solemani) earns our sympathy as an individual whose entire life has been shaped by McCreadie’s unethical whims. The film closes with a series of devastating factoids about the harm inflicted on human beings and the environment by the desire in richer nations for cheaply made garments and other commodities.
Despite the bright spots of humor provided by the film’s game actors, Greed chintzes on unexpected barbs. Its satire hits every target but the film never aims at anything that doesn’t already have a giant target on its back. Winterbottom and his fellow screenwriter Sean Gray might have found better results by letting the script germinate through a few more drafts. For now we can only repeat Greedy McCreadie’s words (which, in turn are inspired by Gladiator): “What we do now echoes in eternity.” Fortunately, celluloid doesn’t last that long.