It doesn’t bode too well for this week’s film that I completely forgot what I was writing about. It clearly didn’t make much of an impression on me. Although, I wasn’t completely bothered about seeing this film. It never really seemed that promising from the trailer. I know its Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan together again but it just seemed too good to be true. Although, I am a sucker for a strong British cast and I do always love seeing David Mitchell in things that aren’t panel shows. So, why not give it a chance? I’ll be honest though, writing this review has been painful. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Either I’m having a bad time with lockdown or this film just sucked the inspiration out of me. Whatever the reason, there will be no denying that this review won’t be one of my best. One could argue that none of my reviews are of a good enough quality for this distinction to be necessary but that would just make me sad.
Subtlety definitely isn’t the word of the day in Michael Winterbottom’s satire about a business tycoon. Sir Rich McCreadie is not so loosely based on the real-life high-street fashion mogul Sir Phillip Green. You might as well have called him Sir Grillip Pheen and dispensed with the pretence. Instead, Winterbottom went with Rich McCreadie. I’m not one of be overly critical but seriously? He sounds like an evil mill owner in a Charles Dickens novel. Okay, Michael, we get it. He’s a bad guy and he shit loads of money. Maybe chill out a bit? But he doesn’t. McCreadie is also known by a nickname. Greedy. Yep, Greedy McCreadie. Now he’s a character in an illustrated children’s book. And he’d be a chubby cat if Winterbottom was writing it.
Anyway, the film follows McCreadie as he attempts to organise his 60th birthday. In an attempt to revive his reputation, Greedy is throwing a no expense spared rager on the Greek island of Mykonos. He’s building his own amphitheatre as a show of his wealth and in homage to the film Gladiator. The film is something that has inspired McCreadie and he wants to show how unbeatable he is by facing off against a lion in front of his guests. He’s recently taken a bit of a hit after he completely crumbled in front of a parliamentary select committee. It’s caused all of his celebrity friends to turn away from him, which makes it even more important to prove he’s still relevant.
Through flashbacks, we learn how McCreadie gained his wealth. Starting as a young man, he works his way up through the fashion world and undercutting all of the competition. We see him visit the factories in Sir Lanka where he uses cunning and a massive amount of confidence to get his stock for a fraction of a price. This means that we also get a glimpse behind the curtain. The film includes scenes where women are working relentlessly for a tiny wage. The working conditions are appalling and only get worse with McCreadie’s bargaining. This is what elevates the plot from a simple satire. This is part of the biting social commentary that makes this a uniquely Winterbottom film.
Unfortunately, it is also what makes this film seem fragmented. I understand that you need both sides of the coin. The comic portrait of a wealthy tycoon wouldn’t work without the hard-hitting critique of society and vice versa. But there is something about this film that never really gels. It all feels a bit awkward. The didactic tone that heightens towards the end of the film is at odds with the lighter moments. It is something that Winterbottom and co. just never quite get right. Yet, there is still plenty of good things about this film. Most notably Steve Coogan’s performance as Rich McCreadie. We know that Coogan is such a talented performer that he can make even the most disagreeable person seem slightly agreeable. He doesn’t make McCreadie sympathetic but he does make it possible to be around him. He’s not so much of a caricature that you can’t stand to listen to him.
The main problem with this is that there is too much going on. The film’s ending isn’t terrible but it doesn’t quite work with the moral message. There is something quite unsettling about seeing the ending play out and then reading the statistics that accompany the credits. Yes, it says a lot about the issues Winterbottom raised in the film but it never gels with the satire. This is an ambitious film and one that isn’t a complete disaster. It’s just hard to ignore the fact that it could have been better.