Skip to main content

Let's have two Tom Jones.

Greed
(2019)

(SPOILERS) Michael Winterbottom’s relationship with Steve Coogan extends to nearly two decades and has seen them essay biographical subjects Tony Wilson and Paul Raymond amid semi-regular Trips, although their best collaboration probably remains Tristam Shandy adaptation A Cock and Bull Story. Winterbottom’s nothing if not prolific – I count fifteen dramatic features since 2000 – which guarantees that occasionally he hits a bullseye, but more frequently’ his work is merely reliably, diligently “okay”. He’s also a singularly political filmmaker and the problem with Greed, a satirical biography of Sir Philip Green by another name, is that he just has too many targets he wants to throw a light on. With the result that, as with the lion at the climax, the beast ends up devouring him.

Coogan’s fashion mogul Sir Richard McCreadie is preparing for his sixtieth birthday on Mykonos, part of which involves said lion providing entertainment in a specially built amphitheatre. McCreadie’s got pots of money, most of it earned by incredibly unscrupulous – but legal, as the picture is at pains to point out, sometimes quite smartly, sometimes with the sledgehammer of David Mitchell’s biographer expressing outrage through interviewing those who have been on the receiving end – methods. He also has no taste. Hence his teeth, one of the many areas where the picture ends up reflecting its character, not knowing when to rein it in, when less is more in getting the message across.

Winterbottom’s screenplay (yes, he takes full responsibility) not only takes in McCreadie’s use of sweatshops, his very Coogan, very Iannucci-esque tearing apart of those charged with opening new stores and deal making with those he intends to asset strip, but also his profligate domestic sphere including ex-wife (Isla Fisher) and disgruntled son (Asa Butterfield), as well as variously verbally abused assistants.

All of this is more than enough to be getting on with, but Winterbottom somehow contrives to the conclusion that isn’t enough, throwing in an entirely ungainly refugee crisis plotline (there’s an encampment on McCreadie’s – actually public – beach, spoiling his view). This is Winterbottom at his most didactic and narratively clumsy, with the Green-esque antics grinding to a halt while he sermonises. The same is true of the Dinita Gohil plotline, revolving around her mother working in a sweatshop. Which leads to her eventually unleashing the lion that mauls McCreadie; it’s a silly, entirely over the top ending, and an odd piece of wish-fulfilment, since it means Winterbottom’s constructing a world where the soulless rich do eventually reap just rewards. There’s an additional, entirely extraneous – except maybe, torturously, as an attempt to emphasise how ridiculous the “actual” rich lifestyle is – reality TV show being made in the same location, which contrives to waste Sophie Cookson.

There’s certainly a lot of decent material in here, and a lot of laughs. Coogan’s very funny, if perhaps over-indulged in a role that allows him to have too much of his head of improv (he’s much more impressive in the earlier Winterbottom picture Look of Love; here, he’s rather coasting). Shirley Henderson seems to be making a habit of donning old age makeup (Tale of Tales) and is great as McCreadie’s “Aphrodite Irish granny” mother.

Greed occasionally picks up stimulating threads; McCreadie at an inquiry calling out Bono and the big firms for their tax avoidance while he gets harangued (riffing on BHS) is entirely pertinent, and goes back to my original awareness of the picture from a Guardian piece that made it sound as if the film would be considerably more focussed than it is (“We’re not going to have mention of individual brands” in the call-outs at the end of the picture, Sony decreed; the article is probably more illuminating than the movie itself). There’s a deconstruction of McCreadie’s asset-stripping technique that recalls The Big Short, but there’s too little of it. And ironically, the most consistently engrossing part of the film documents the rise of the young McCreadie, where Jamie Blackley, devoid of Coogan’s baggage, is able to make him a character rather than a caricature.

Perhaps if Winterbottom had stuck to the biopic element, focussing wholly on the Green-ish central character, he’d have made something more cogent and coherent. I suspect he was afraid of pulling a Wolf of Wall Street, and giving us Green in all his “glory” as someone you’re rooting for by being entirely wrong about everything. Whatever his reasoning, by being so greedy for socio-political commentary, Greed becomes too scattershot and only sporadically successful.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Popular posts from this blog

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies.

Watership Down (1978) (SPOILERS) I only read Watership Down recently, despite having loved the film from the first, and I was immediately impressed with how faithful, albeit inevitably compacted, Martin Rosen’s adaptation is. It manages to translate the lyrical, mythic and metaphysical qualities of Richard Adams’ novel without succumbing to dumbing down or the urge to cater for a broader or younger audience. It may be true that parents are the ones who get most concerned over the more disturbing elements of the picture but, given the maturity of the content, it remains a surprise that, as with 2001: A Space Odyssey (which may on the face of it seem like an odd bedfellow), this doesn’t garner a PG certificate. As the makers noted, Watership Down is at least in part an Exodus story, but the biblical implications extend beyond Hazel merely leading his fluffle to the titular promised land. There is a prevalent spiritual dimension to this rabbit universe, one very much

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

Other monks will meet their deaths here. And they too will have blackened fingers. And blackened tongues.

The Name of the Rose (1986) (SPOILERS) Umberto Eco wasn’t awfully impressed by Jean Jacques-Annaud’s adaptation of his novel – or “ palimpsest of Umberto Eco’s novel ” as the opening titles announce – to the extent that he nixed further movie versions of his work. Later, he amended that view, calling it “ a nice movie ”. He also, for balance, labelled The Name of the Rose his worst novel – “ I hate this book and I hope you hate it too ”. Essentially, he was begrudging its renown at the expense of his later “ superior ” novels. I didn’t hate the novel, although I do prefer the movie, probably because I saw it first and it was everything I wanted from a medieval Sherlock Holmes movie set in a monastery and devoted to forbidden books, knowledge and opinions.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.