Michael Winterbottom’s biting satire, Greed, which opens in Canadian theatres on March 6, is a caustic portrait of a fictional self-made British billionaire and a blistering commentary on the fast fashion industry whose downtrodden workers he exploits mercilessly.
Retail mogul Sir Richard (Greedy) McCreadie (Steve Coogan) has decamped to the Greek island of Mykonos to celebrate his 60th birthday with family, friends, a camera crew and an appointed biographer. Known far and wide as Rich, he’s crude, lewd and profane, a man who drives a hard bargain when he’s in business mode.
To his legion of admirers, he’s the “DaVinci” of deal-making and the “Monet” of money. To a government inquiry investigating his sharp practices, however, he’s little more than the “unacceptable face of capitalism.”
The first half of the film, composed of flashbacks from his youth and his rise to prominence, is quite entertaining. McCreadie knows precious little about the vagaries of fashion, but he’s a brilliant negotiator. During his youth, his aggressive mother (Shirley Henderson) doubles as his cheerleader, and as far as she’s concerned, he’s destined for wealth and fame.
He reaches the top of the greasy pole by outwitting wily garment manufacturers in Sri Lanka who grossly underpay their employees. McCreadie’s aversion to compensating workers fairly is encapsulated in a telling vignette in which he refuses to pay an increasingly irate Sri Lankan taxi driver the going rate for a ride to a factory. He’s fearless as he holds his ground, but his fearlessness will cost him dearly years later.
McCreadie is an old-fashioned robber baron entrepreneur and a tax evader to boot. His modus operandi is to acquire new companies, bankrupt them and divert a portion of their assets into foreign tax shelters, a financial sleight of hand that enables his pampered wife, Samantha (Isla Fisher), to buy a sleek yacht in Monaco. But by the time he reaches Mykonos, he’s divorced her and replaced her with a much younger girlfriend. He treats his sullen son, Finn (Asa Butterfield), with scarcely disguised disdain.
In Mykonos, poorly paid Bulgarian construction workers are building a Roman amphitheater for McCreadie’s birthday bash, where guests are expected to dress up in white togas. A lion has been imported for the occasion, but McCreadie will learn to regret its presence. McCreadie, offended by the sight of Syrian refugees on a public beach near his amphitheater, finds a way to shoo them away.
McCreadie’s Sri Lankan-born assistant, Amanda (Dinita Gohil), bears a secret grudge against him. As a flashback reveals, her mother, a garment worker, lost her job and then her life due to McCreadie’s insatiable greed. She wreaks her vengeance quietly but ruthlessly.
McCreadie is a caricature of a blood-sucking capitalist in a cutthroat industry, and Coogan plays this self-absorbed villain with relish and zest in a movie that skewers the fashion industry.