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Not a must-buy for owners of the original, but a better package than the previous release —Matt Anderson (DVD review...)

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The fashion world’s Greed stumbles off the catwalk in a clumsy, agenda-driven narrative.

Sir Richard McCreadie (Steve Coogan)
Sir Richard McCreadie (Steve Coogan)

A Rich Man’s World

Writer/director Michael Winterbottom and star Steve Coogan have made some great movies together. At the top of the list is The Trip series of semi-scripted travel journals that are wrapped around a fictional narrative.

Those movies are inventive. This one, sadly, is not.

Greed is their angry child. They’re lashing out — at the dirty laundry of the fashion business and at the uber-rich in general. The result is a smug, joyless stab at satire that’s woefully lacking in humor, bite and insight.

It also suffers from a distracted storyline that includes a running joke (or something that can be modestly referred to as a running joke; like the bulk of the movie, it’s also not particularly funny). This running gag surrounds what is clearly a scripted reality TV series involving those overwrought emotions of young love — and young beauty, completely lacking in talent (or at least lacking in talent suitable for display on the small screen of public television).

And then there’s the narrative structure. It’s the story of Sir Richard McCreadie (Coogan), Britain’s youngest self-made billionaire, and it’s sort of told through the perspective of his official biographer, Nick Morris (David Mitchell, BBC’s Upstart Crow), an amiable common man surrounded by the zaniness of the wealthy. Somehow, even that structure doesn’t work. It lacks the mockumentary punch of archived memories (one aspect the underrated Where’d You Go, Bernadette nailed so well).

Money Makes the World Go Around

Greed bounces around in the lifeline of Sir Richard (McCreadie, not Branson), who parlayed his knack for making a quick buck in simple card games during school into higher stakes by playing hardball in the fashion industry. Lowball vendors, then turn around and make a dandy profit. That strategy led to a growing fashion empire that enjoyed many acquisitions and suffered many bankruptcies.

Ultimately, McCreadie is demonized for negotiating his way to (“gross”) profits largely on the backs of labor in countries where the pay scale is on a totally different plane from the Western world. Workers pull in less than $4/day while High Street’s top fashion brands rake in billions. But a large part of those national economies is based on those wages. What is the solution? It’s more complicated than Greed wants to acknowledge. Unfortunately, a lot of Greed is propelled by the venom of ignorance lying behind eye-catching headlines.

It’s tiresome watching this tirade unfold in part because it offers loads of criticism but no solutions.

The brightest bits of sunshine in this Greek tragedy are the cameos, but Greed’s own aggressive agenda ultimately puts a pall over them as well. James Blunt makes a cutesy appearance, performing his song You’re Beautiful for a private audience of two, McCreadie and his romantic interest at the time, Samantha (Isla Fisher, Confessions of a Shopaholic). There’s also a star-studded video birthday card celebrating McCreadie’s 60th. Appearances include Chris Martin, Ben Stiller and Keira Knightley; none on the brink of poverty and none averse to wearing high fashion. (Stiller’s involvement is particularly quirky; his Zoolander comedies – which are very funny – lampoon the fashion industry by taking a much different tone from Greed.) It’s awkward celebrity baiting, all things considered (see the sidebar for more awkwardness).

Winterbottom bookends the movie with a quote from E.M. Forster’s Howards End: “Only connect.” Fine. But is there a way to be more pretentious about social and economic class differences? Winterbottom’s game to try.

Granted, McCreadie also committed acts of financial misconduct. He acquired fashion outlets and led them into bankruptcy; those activities included selling off property for immediate gain then renting back the store space. In turn, profits from the private businesses were paid out to upper management and, ostensibly, himself in huge sums. That would be greed at its most malicious and manipulative. Even as McCreadie managed to squirrel away a large fortune, his hardnosed and shady business practices eventually led to calls for having his knighthood revoked.

Vogue

There is certainly plenty of criticism to go around: the fashion industry, greedy businesspeople (not all capitalists are pigs, just like not all socialists are as deplorable as Lenin or Stalin) and let’s not leave out the culpability of politicians, who also do their best to accumulate wealth. The latter is perhaps the vilest use of the public’s dollar, pound, euro, whatever the currency — which in turn leads to another one of Greed’s targets: offshore tax havens.

This is the kind of movie that’s much more interesting in terms of what it’s trying to do than what it actually accomplishes. It’s not until the end when Greed manages to connect its story to its guts. Some staggering statistics fill the screen before the end credits roll (the full list is included in the sidebar). It’s preachy and a bit pompous. And it’s also a signal of the movie’s narrative weakness that this content doesn’t surface more organically through the movie’s characters. It’s as if Winterbottom acknowledged his own story’s shortcomings and added the statistical epilogue to compensate and make the movie seem more important than it really is.

Of course, the above is a major over-simplification. And so is everything about Greed. It tries to take a complicated topic and distill it into something masquerading as a satire. That’s not an easy thing to do. The Big Short pulled it off with aplomb; Greed is more of a bomb. While the material would be best served with a velvet glove, Winterbottom flails about with a hammer, swinging at whatever’s been bugging him. That leads to a grisly end — giving a whole new meaning to the term “lionize” — that’s tonally off kilter.