Writer: Michael Winterbottom and Sean Gray
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Disposable fashion and constant consumption come at a very high price for those in the supply chain. Michael Winterbottom’s new film starring Steve Coogan takes a satirical swipe at the multinational fashion tycoons whose extensive wealth and bad behaviour drive down prices to sell cheap and in high volume. Not nearly as sharply tailored as it could be, Greed is a film with confusing message.
Sir Richard McCreadie is planning his 60th birthday party on the island of Mykonos for a host of family and celebrity friends there to endorse his increasingly besieged empire. With biographer Nick along for the weekend, “Greedy” McCreadie’s rise to power is revealed with numerous bankruptcies and endless bargaining. As the Rome-themed event begins, anger rises across the staff and more than one person has an axe to grind, but Sir Richard is oblivious to anything but flashing his wealth.
Greed has several narrative strands – the chaotic build-up to the party with an unfinished amphitheatre and logistics dilemmas, Sir Richard’s own history dramatizing the rise of a the young entrepreneur until the point he faces a Select Committee investigation, and the perspective of his staff as well as (weirdly) a group of refugees on the receiving end of his business practices. It wears its humanitarian principles on its sleeve, delivered with sledgehammer messaging about the terrible basis of slave labour upon which modern retail empires are founded.
But the real focus of Winterbottom’s film is on making the cartoonish central character as heinous as possible and a lot of time is spent emphasising his multitude of evils, arrogance, vanity, pomposity, self-delusion and heartlessness which are just the tip of the iceberg. The problem with Greed is that it leaves itself almost nowhere to go and following a character as paper thin as Sir Richard has little dramatic value with the humorous caricature Coogan paints creating far more entertainment than the more serious sections of the film, and thus distracting from them.
Coogan is his usual ebullient self, playing a character with no scruples or social awareness and even less soul which has its amusing moments knowing that Sir Richard represents a number of business moguls whose extreme behaviour is clearly grounded in some reality. Yet with luminous teeth and artfully shaped hair, the performance is remarkably unvarying. Much more interesting is the story of the younger Richard (Jamie Blackley) ejected from public school and forging his terrible personality with a series of excruciating international deals.
Among the supporting cast, David Mitchell does his bumbling best as quietly outraged biographer Nick whose own principles are tested by the money he will make from the book, while Isla Fisher proves yet again what a fine comic actress she is as Richard’s shameless ex-wife. Asa Butterfield is all but wasted as the resentful son and why Shirley Henderson is aged-up to play Sir Richard’s mother is never quite clear. There’s an equally superfluous reality TV subplot with Made in Chelsea’s Ollie Locke playing a version of himself dating Sir Richard’s daughter filming a reality show.
As ever with these kinds of film there is a rolling list of cameos to look out for, but with the clearly commercial intent of the film, the title is surprisingly apt. There are some valuable points being made about the fashion industry but its never lacerating. For a film that includes both the Mediterranean refugee crisis and sweatshops in the Far East focusing on Steve Coogan playing another egotistical man-child makes Greed pretty lightweight.
The BFI London Film Festival runs from 2 October to 13 October