There’s little mystery as to who Greed is really about. While the character played by Steve Coogan is called Sir Richard ‘Greedy’ McCreadie, the perma-tanned, arrogant ‘King of the High Street’ turned "unacceptable face of capitalism" takes his inspiration from Sir Philip Green. Aside from having the retail mogul trained firmly in his sights, director Michael Winterbottom also has a thing or two to say about the unscrupulous nature of the fashion industry, although his messy approach continually pulls its punches so any marks it leaves behind will quickly self-heal.
Winterbottom fought a losing battle with Sony to include a number of shocking facts about the corporate greed of fashion brands such as H&M and Zara to highlight the profits made as a result of worker exploitation in countries across the Asian continent. Yet despite being large and obvious targets he still somehow manages to miss. Politics aside, first and foremost Greed wants to make you laugh, but even in that department it fails to do its job.
Much of the film is spent zipping back and forth across the timeline of McCreadie’s rise to the top of the retail food chain. The presence of his biographer, Nick (David Mitchell, doing his usual bumbling schtick) is used to revisit a number of ‘hilarious’ wheeler dealer masterclasses and brutal dressing downs of employees in McCreadie’s younger years, while the countdown for his 60th birthday celebration on the Greek island of Mykonos gathers pace.
Just in case we miss the point about McCreadie’s kingdom, the party has a Roman Empire theme, which requires the building of a wooden amphitheatre complete with (CGI) lion and guests dressed in togas. Given this is a film about the fashion industry the lack of white powder being snorted is surprising, although there are signs it may have been inhaled elsewhere. The hyperactive nature of the direction doesn’t take long to grate, with split screens and annoying graphics matched to a dated soundtrack (London’s Calling should be banned from appearing in any film for at least the next 50 years) that play their part in obliterating any hint of narrative momentum.
Coogan is stuck in one-note territory throughout and rarely manages to raise a laugh, relying on c-bombs and aggressive delivery as a comedy crutch. Winterbottom spins countless sub-plots that eventually offer nothing substantial: McCreadie’s bitter son Finn (Asa Butterfield) wants to kill him, idiot daughter Lily (Sophie Cookson) stars in a reality TV show, assistant Amanda’s (Dinita Gohil) moral compass is twitching and there are refugees on a nearby beach that McCreadie wants removed. On top of that we repeatedly return to the grilling of the multi-millionaire by a select treasury committee (see the BHS pension scandal) in years past.
By continually jumping around this jumble of storylines the entire premise is left lacking direction, before Winterbottom tries to land big with a moralistic ending that is completely unearned by the character driving it. He does so in the belief that this sort of easy get out sums up the underlying theme of corporate greed – while also equalling the actions of said character with a wrong that affected their life as a child. Let’s just say it does not. It's one of a multitude of missteps that ensures Greed overlooks the imperialistic nature of exploitation by the Western fashion industry, and any of the retail bosses supposedly in the line of fire here will barely bother to give this a cursory glance.
Greed opens nationwide in UK cinemas on February 21.