clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Inequality satire ‘Greed’ makes its point with wretched excess

Portrayal of a filthy rich, unscrupulous fashion mogul lays the ridicule on thick.

Guests at the “Gladiator”-themed birthday party of fashion mogul Richard McCreadie (Steve Coogan, center) include his ex-wife (Isla Fisher, left) and bratty son (Asa Butterfield) in “Greed.”
Sony Pictures Classics

Watching “Greed” is like getting cornered by a smart and passionate but overbearing guy at a party who rails about social injustice and the sins of the wealthy — and then hands you a printout filled with stats to back up his arguments.

Even though you agree with most of the points he’s making, you’ve got a pounding headache from the manner in which he’s hammered home those points.

Michael Winterbottom (“The Claim,” “24 Hour Party People,” “Code 46”) is a wonderfully gifted and versatile director, so it comes as no small surprise “Greed” is such a thudding. one-note takedown of a fictional avaricious fashion mogul.

I wasn’t exaggerating about the relentless, lecturing tone of the film. When the story draws to a close, the closing credits pepper us with (admittedly sobering) stats about the obscenely low wages paid to workers in Third World Countries who make all those designer clothes often endorsed by wealthy celebrities.

Before we get to those sobering figures, “Greed” takes us on a meandering and sometimes convoluted journey in telling the tale of Sir Richard McCreadie, aka “McGreedy,” who is a fictionalized version of the controversial British fashion billionaire Philip Green.

The always entertaining Steve Coogan (a frequent Winterbottom collaborator) is suitably oily and loathsome but almost cartoonishly over the top as the perpetually tanned Richard, who is planning an obscenely lavish, “Gladiator”-influenced 60th birthday party for himself on the Greek island of Mykonos, because if you’re going to throw a party based on a movie set in Rome, of course you do it in Greece.

With a planned replica Colosseum amphitheater that has to be built within a week, desperate talk of bringing pop superstars such as Adele and Shakira to perform, bacchanalian activities on the party menu and all sorts of scheduling hiccups, this could wind up being the “Ok, Boomer” version of Fyre Festival.

I mean, there’s an actual lion on the premises. A lion Richard feels a false sense of kinship with — because after all, he’s Sir Richard McCreadie, a spiritual descendent of Richard the Lionheart!

What an idiot.

As we learn from the time-hopping storyline (with Jamie Blackley playing younger Richard in flashbacks, and “London Calling” by the Clash on the soundtrack), Richard built his billion-dollar-plus fortune by ripping off designers, exploiting third-world labor, bankrupting competitors and eliminating thousands of jobs.

He’s the .00001%, and he’s never lost a moment’s sleep troubled by how he climbed to the top of the mountain.

“[Richard] wasn’t somebody who loved clothes, he loved deals,” says a former wife in a filmed interview. “Money makes money. And when people think you have money, then they give you more.”

Director Winterbottom employs graphics telling us it’s “4 DAYS TO THE PARTY,” etc., as we count down to the momentous event. The film is all over the place with pop culture subplots within subplots, e.g., Richard’s daughter Lily (Sophie Cookson) is filming a “Bachelorette” type reality show called “The Young, the Rich & the Beautiful,” and doesn’t seem to realize her “co-star” is gay.

And then there’s Nick (David Mitchell), a journalist of dubious ethics who is writing Richard’s biography, and the alliance-of-circumstances he strikes with a McCreadie corporate executive named Amanda (Dinita Gohill), whose family back home in Sri Lanka works in one of the company sweatshops.

The dizzying array of characters also includes Richard’s bubbly and still fiercely loyal ex-wife (Isla Fisher), who’s having a grand old time living off her $1.2 billion divorce settlement (she personally designed a yacht the size of a football field), and Richard’s brooding brat of an eldest son (Asa Butterfield), who’s just about as horrible as you’d expect him to be.

There’s a LOT of movie in this movie — made all the more complicated by an overabundance of flashiness, including some “Big Short” asides, overlapping dialogue a la a Robert Altman film, cameos by British celebs that will fly right past most American viewers and geez, enough with the “Gladiator” references.

Just when things couldn’t possibly get more heavy-handed, McCreadie tricks a group of Syrian refugees (played by real-life Syrian refugees living in Greece) into taking a bet that results in the refugees working the opulent party for free, like so many slaves.

Richard the Lionheart is nothing but a chicken---- swindler. We get that early on, but we’re stuck spending day after day with this cad, learning nothing new as everything he says and does merely reinforces what we already know.