Bloomberg Businessweek USA - 02.03.2020

(singke) #1


It’s never clear ifGreed, the story of the rise and fall of an
English fast-fashion billionaire, is intended as satire or moral
parable. It’s certainly got some superb comedic actors: Steve
Coogan plays arch-capitalist Sir Richard McCreadie; Isla
Fisher plays his (amicably separated) ex-wife, Samantha;
and David Mitchell, best known as the co-star of the British
seriesPeep Show, plays Nick, a hack McCreadie has enlisted
to write his biography.
The setup for a sendup is there, too. The movie
opens as McCreadie and his entourage prepare a Roman
bacchanal-themed birthday party on the Greek island of
Mykonos: There’s harried staff, a cal-
lous attempt to remove some Syrian
refugees camped on a public beach
(“They’re refugees—they can find ref-
uge somewhere that isn’t smack bang
in the middle of our f---ing view”),
and a plywood Roman amphithe-
ater that’s intended for some sort of
gladiatorial performance with a live
lion. Looming over the proceedings
is a recent parliamentary inquiry into
McCreadie’s business that’s tarnished
his reputation.
What could go wrong?
To find out, viewers have to wait while the movie, directed
by Michael Winterbottom and running a quick 104 minutes,
lavishes time on its ostensible villain’s origin story. After being
removed from a posh public school, the hardworking young
McCreadie, played by Jamie Blackley, crisscrosses the globe
as he founds a series of clothing companies whose profits are
built on cheap labor.
McCreadie visits several Sri Lankan sweatshops, pitting
one owner against another until he squeezes out the best deal
possible. “If the price goes down, the factory still has to make
money,” explains the daughter of one such worker. “So what
happens? The workers have to work faster.”
Gradually we learn that McCreadie, though fabulously
rich, has not been fabulously successful; instead, his modus
operandi is to start or acquire a company, saddle it with debt, PHOTOGRAPH BY AMELIA TROUBRIDGE/COURTESY SONY PICTURES CLASSICS

CRITIC Bloomberg Pursuits March 2, 2020

extract as much money as he can from the operation, and
then let it go bankrupt.
There’s a reason the character sounds like someone
you’ve heard of. According to the filmmakers, McCreadie
was inspired by Philip Green, the billionaire who over-
saw the collapse of fashion retailer BHS. (Green owned
BHS for 15 years, then sold it for £1 the year before it went
under; 11,000 people lost their jobs.) But McCreadie’s play-
book could be taken directly from any one of dozens of pri-
vate equity firms that have subjected companies including
Toys R Us, Fairway Market, and Claire’s Stores to a corpo-
rate pillaging.
Coogan, who often appears in flashbacks in front of the
parliamentary committee wearing a power suit and fake
teeth, is unnervingly good at humanizing what could be a two-
dimensional character: He’s not a bad person, he argues to
the committee, he’s just doing well in a system that’s designed
to punish the many for the benefit of the few. “I pay what I
have to [in taxes] and no more, because I’m not stupid,” he
says. “If you want to chase people avoiding tax, why don’t
you go after the big boys? Look at Apple, look at Amazon,
Starbucks. Why are you chasing me?”
And where, throughout all of this, are the laughs? It’s an
increasingly unanswerable question as the movie stutters to
a close. The danger of all these flashbacks, it turns out, is that
they drain any narrative momentum. All the air has left the
film well before McCreadie’s birthday
party spirals joylessly out of control
and ends in gruesome fashion.
Without the humor, we’re left to
reckon withGreed’s victims—the refu-
gees tricked into working as handymen
at the party, his hapless employees,
the women in his sweatshops. We
watch one such laborer, who hap-
pens to be the mother of a member
of McCreadie’s entourage, as she falls
ill, gets fired, and then dies in a horri-
ble accident. Because the film toggles
unsteadily between these people’s suffering and McCreadie’s
theatrics, neither manages to make an impact.
To be fair, Greed always faced an uphill battle. Wealth porn
has so completely replaced real pornography in contempo-
rary cinema that it’s difficult for a filmmaker to linger on the
yachts, planes, and mansions of the very rich and still expect
audiences to get offended. Indeed, cannier directors than
Winterbottom have tried to turn viewers against excess and
failed. In 1987, Oliver Stone made Wall Street as a scathing
indictment of the financial industry and ended up deliver-
ing an infomercial for Goldman Sachs.
More than 30 years later, greed is still good, at least from
the perspective of people trying to sell films, and maybe
that’s the takeaway of Greed, too. “It must be costing a for-
tune,” McCreadie’s mother says of his birthday party. “It is,”
McCreadie replies. “And that’s the point.” <BW>

A new movie takes aim at
the .001% and hits the poor
instead. By James Tarmy

Greed Is ...

Not Good

Coogan as
Free download pdf