GREED – movie review

Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Screenwriter: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Steve Coogan, David Mitchell, Asa Butterfield, Sarah Solemani, Shirley Henderson, Isla Fisher
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 2/11/20
Opens: February 28, 2020

Greed - Poster Gallery

Jeff Bezos, founding director of Amazon, is the richest man in the world, with assets of $120 billion, at least that’s before his recent divorce. I’m puzzled, though. He recently was praised by Senator Bernie Sanders for setting a minimum wage for his packers at $15 an hour. This is arguably a decent wage for starting a career, but let’s consider why Bezos insists on playing the capitalist game like a small merchant, determined to make some profit just to keep a business afloat. If he raised the minimum wage to $20, what would happen? He would not likely grow broke notwithstanding the thousands of packers that work for the company, nor might even his accountant notice the difference. “It’s not a charity,” say some. True, but if you’ve got the money, why no flaunt it by really paying the workers for their hours of backbreaking work timed on a machine that acts like a stopwatch? Let’s go further. Instead of doling out the money through his foundation which now goes to young people training for executive positions, couldn’t he cut loose with twenty billion immediately to aid worthy charities particularly serving the poverty-stricken in the developing world?

That’s where Michael Witnerbottom’s movie “Greed” cuts in. Winterbottom, who is not as far left politically as Ken Loach, nonetheless opens up an indictment of capitalism, but one filled with so many episodes and such rapid, non-chronological editing, that he is more interested in a general entertainment before he gets down and dirty to expose a British billionaire. By extension the principal character, Sir Richard McCreadle (Steve Coogan), acts as a metaphor for the industrialized capitalist countries that prey not only on their own countrymen but more on draining the very lives of tens of millions of people who make the clothing that we consume. We can go even further and say that each of us who scores a pair of jeans for twenty-five bucks or a T-shirt for $2.99 are profiting from the exploitation from big corporations, perhaps without a thought about what they are doing. (We have long ago done away with the once-strong International Garment Workers Union supporting American workers in the rag trade, as competition from China, Vietnam, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and others virtually destroyed this American empire.)

For those of us concerned purely with the entertainment value of “Greed,” the folks who do not go to the movies to hear mainly political manifestos played out, there is considerable fun in watching Steve Coogan portray a guy whose nickname might well be Greed. Planning to give a lavish party on the Greek island of Mykonos for his sixtieth birthday, the billionaire garment king is treated by Winterbottom to a dramatized biographical sketch. When the planned party has a hitch, Richard tries to shoo away a group of Syrian refugees that have camped out on the public Mykonos beach, but exploits even them by manipulating them to put on uniforms for the big toga party to come.

Many years earlier he proves his determination to get the capital goods that he wants at the lowest possible price, sometimes dealing with a wholesaler who stubbornly refuses to come down with his offering price by pretending to walk out and buy nothing. Nonetheless as he predicts, he is called back into the room to carry on negotiations that will allow him to walk away with huge bargains.

Since the apple does not fall far from the tree, his teen son, Finn McCreadie (Asa Butterfield) follows in his dad’s footsteps, determined to take over the corporation sooner rather than later. He resents his father though eager to win over the hot women who are on loving terms with Sir Richard.

For me, the comic entertainments take second billing to the anti-capitalist thrust, though Winterbottom, using his own script, shows us the poverty-stricken garment workers who are filmed by Giles Nutgens on site in Greece, India, Sri Lanka, London and Monaco. This is a big, expensive production also highlighting Amanda (Dinita Gohil), a young, pretty Sinhalese-British woman who has a major role at the party, who is not at all impressed by Richard’s wealth and power, and who returns to England as a still exploited garment worker.

Everything is seen through the eyes of Nick (David Mitchell), a shlubby journalist who is writing Richard’s biography.

The combination of political message and lavish entertainment makes “Greed” a welcome addition to the cinema scene despite a paucity of real jokes

104 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B+