Amelia Troubridge / Sony Pictures Classics
As the monstrous cinematic bumps disappear, Sir Richard McCreadie, CEO of many successful British clothing chains, is not a Kane citizen. Played brilliantly casual by Steve Coogan in Michael Winterbottom confusing genre Greed, Sir Richard is not what you would call an incubator. For him, self-doubt – in fact introspection of all kinds – is a loser’s game. This despite the judgment of a special parliamentary committee investigating the myriad bankruptcies that have somehow filled its coffers, that it illustrates “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. And not to mention the nickname “Greedy McCreadie” entrusted to him by former colleagues and workers who testify, with all the gravity of false documents, of his lack of character.
Sir Richard doesn’t care, and writer-director Michael Winterbottom offers no Rosebud to unlock the psychic key of this soulless sociopath, who is freely inspired by Philip Green, the actual owner of High Street chain stores like Top Shop. McCreadie is a bulldozer who scolds, intimidates and belittles those who get in his way or fail to snuff. He is also, like many charismatic scoundrels who manage with guff and bluff, a restless charmer whose profane tirades do not extend to his ex-wife and adored business partner (a mischievously funny Isla Fisher) or to her body current press (Shanina Shaik).
Winterbottom, who wrote the scary script for the film, is not trying to make McCreadie more palatable, although, like many powerful men, it can be as much fun to be with him as the punk rock producer too. cheeky (but much more moving) Coogan starred in the formidable Winterbottom parade in 2002 24 hour revelers.
Cleverly mounted to satirize the breathable structure of Orson Welles Citizen Kane, Greed is a jaunty hug littered with wacky flashbacks to McCreadie’s formative youth with his fiercely ambitious mother. (She is skillfully portrayed by Shirley Henderson, an aggressive hilarious Scottish girl, her arms crossed tightly around her as if she is hoarding trade secrets). There, we learn that young Richard is good for nothing, except to prepare to “earn money so that I can do what I want”.
What he wants, ultimately, is to make millions as a serial killer of clothing stores that he buys at low prices, a 21ststratagem of the century which makes it prosper even as it sends companies into the tubes. As usual with Winterbottom, a timely agitprop warning folds into comedy, and here the director presents McCreadie as a prototype of his era at the turn of the millennium, when failure became a lucrative business strategy for talented entrepreneurs but an abundance of intelligence from the amoral street and a disproportionate desire to crush any opposition by leading to nothing.
Back in the present, we meet McCreadie dressed in shorts with pink flowers and improbable teeth, arriving with his suite on the Greek island of Mykonos to supervise what should be the final touch of an eruption 60e birthday party for himself. The program includes an arena of gladiators paved with cheap labor and materials, she refuses to defend herself. Pay particular attention to Clarence, a real lion who enters the scene with an awfully low testosterone but who will gain 15 minutes later, then some.
Loosely sewn with fishing tackle rather than fine thread, Greed reflects in tone and style what passes for personality in McCreadie, a rearing hologram of post-capitalist capitalism where success is not measured by product quality but by being seen as a winner. Winterbottom covers his villain with moral fog so much that for a time he does not record that, like a virus, the McCreadie method infects everyone around the preening tycoon, including his official biographer, Nick (rendered impassive by the stand-up comedian David Mitchell), a crumpled journalist who is increasingly bothered by the rogue man whom he is accused, so to speak, of reading.
Winterbottom also means gradually alerting us to the fact that our laughter has made us accomplices too. I see his point, but satire rarely shares space comfortably with social drama. Late in the film, the tone and the rhythm suddenly calmed down, probably to allow us to absorb the extent of the global damage caused by people like McCreadie, and not only in the fashion sector. Imagining himself an emperor, McCreadie dresses him and his cronies in gowns while distributing compulsory slave clothing to his servants and to a family of Syrian refugees camping on the beach. Only them, and an administrative assistant (Dinita Gohil) whose mother perished in India while making a sweatshirt for a McCreadie company, have an overview of slavery and displacement around the world.
Given the general air of sardonic jocularity, we expect a punch line. When many hit the pike, it’s hard to know whether to cry or snicker behind our hands. This may be Winterbottom’s point, and an age-appropriate dilemma where the unrestrained greed of jumped shysters is unleashed in absurdity. Somewhere, however, the collateral tragedies unleashed by the Greedy McCreadies of this world get lost in the midst of bitter laughter.
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