MovieMonday: Greed

This film wants to be a hilarious takedown of a selfish billionaire.  In the right hands, it could have made some good points.  Sadly, that does not happen here.

The hero/villain of the piece is the one-dimensional Sir Richard McCreadie (aka McGreedy, haha) who is played with glee by the talented Steve Coogan.

McCreadie has been an insufferable jerk since before he dropped out of school and became a fashion entrepreneur.  His negotiating style, when quoted any price — even for a completed cab ride in impoverished Sri Lanka — is to offer 75 or 80 percent less, take it or leave it.  Surprisingly, many people take the money.

Sir Richard buys and opens fast-fashion stores and strips them of assets before they go bankrupt.  His biggest deal, the one that makes him a billionaire, is the purchase and subsequent sale-leaseback of a large chain of retail stores; he of course stashes the cash in tax-free Monaco.  This has made him the target of an inquiry about various of his business practices by the British parliament.

His mother and ex-wife are just as bad.  His resentful son is said to be studying up on Oedipus in Wikipedia.

To stroke his already oversized ego, McCreadie hires a pliant journalist (a completely underused David Mitchell) to produce an authorized hagiography.

McCreadie also orders up a Gladiator-themed birthday party for himself on the Greek Island of Mykonos — complete with togas, paid celebrity guests and a real live lion.  When he visits the island to check on the project’s progress, he frets about the unsightly Syrian refugees blocking his view of the public beach and the low-paid (natch) Bulgarian contractors’ slow speed as they construct his plywood coliseum.

That’s enough of the setup.  The plot climax and resolution may have — may have — looked good on paper, but boy are they weak.

I cannot recommend this movie.   In the current moment of coronavirus anxiety, it probably will not attract many viewers. No big loss.

Notes

McCreadie’s antics and excesses — the $100 million yacht, the multi-day birthday parties for the beautiful people, the reality-show daughter — are a pretty straight recitation of complaints about Topshop founder Sir Philip Green, who seems to be widely loathed in the U.K.  It’s only when Greed‘s plot strays from this narrative that it wanders into total idiocy.

—–

Greed opens and closes with the phrase, “Only connect,” a famous epigraph that the film traces accurately to Howard’s End, a novel by E.M. Forster.

Perhaps the filmmakers thought this hearkening to a famous novel from the last century would inspire moviegoers to consider the poor garment workers paid very low wages by people like McCreadie: If so, they were wrong.

I’ve read that novel; it’s about personal relationships, not social justice. Either the filmmakers should have come up with a different motto or left the Forster reference out of it.

—–

Just after the “Only connect” message and before the final credits roll, placards tell us about the inequality of the world:

That 90 percent of billionaires are men, that the wealth of 26 billionaires equals the net worth of 3.8 billion humans.  That garment workers in desperately poor countries make four quid (British pounds) per day while billionaires have so much more.

We get it.  Apparently the wish is for this ostensible comedy to make its audience angry enough to march in the streets with signs deploring billionaires.

I’m not a billionaire and prefer not to be.

Still, I understand the tension: Giving low-paid jobs to to impoverished people in Bangladesh and Myanmar is a tradeoff that makes it much much easier for the working poor in first-world economies to be fashionable.  Or, if they have consciences, perhaps to be concerned about global inequality and their contribution to such by buying cheap duds.

On the other hand, American billionaires’ fortunes accrue mostly to the creation of products that don’t require the employment of low-skilled workers.  Would the founders of Google, Apple, Oracle, Facebook and others have become as wealthy as they are if they had to provide the numbers of jobs that industrial companies require?  Of course not — those rich peoples’ firms employ a relatively small number of well-paid techies, but what good do they do for the urban poor whose financial burdens now include high monthly cellphone and wifi bills?  Are we supposed to believe that the non-fashion billionaires are better people than the guy in this film?

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While the current Cov 19 dread continues, future Movie Monday posts will be about classic movies available online, which will accommodate cinema fans stranded at home.

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