We are living through something of a golden age of class war cinema writes Andy Stowe. Joker offered us an urban rebellion against the rich; Parasite showed them getting their comeuppance from the underclass and in Greed director Michael Winterbottom hits us between the eyes with the hyper-exploitation of women workers in the garment industry and the billionaire company owners who squeeze every penny of profit out of them.
Fast fashion outfits Zara and H&M get mentioned by name. Winterbottom also has a pop at tax dodging musical “philanthropists” like Bongo from U2, a man who bragged about how claiming his band was Dutch based allowed him to avoid paying for schools, hospitals and social care so that he can have houses in the south of France, New York and Dublin. That’s a slight paraphrase, but the sentiment is accurate.
Also in Winterbottom’s cross hairs are those musicians who play private shows for the billionaires. Elton John, Beyoncé, Robbie Williams and the celebrities who are paid to add stardust to their parties just by being there. But his main target is Philip Green on whom Steve Coogan’s Sir Richard “Greedy” McCreadie is transparently based. McCreadie doesn’t go in for the serial sexual harassment Green is accused of but his serial asset stripping and raiding of pension funds that the boss of Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Miss Selfridge, Topshop and other companies went in for.
For his 50th birthday Green held a three day toga party where the guests were entertained by Tom Jones and Rod Stewart. McCreadie has hired hack writer David Mitchell, an actor whose dramatic range makes John Wayne look like Daniel Day-Lewis, to chronicle the event and write his official hagiography.
Through a series of flashbacks we see how people like Green and McCreadie bludgeon their way to commercial success by forcing down wages and treating everyone they meet as lower than commodities. As part of the party planning Mitchell has toured sweat shops in Bangladesh and Myanmar to get workers earning less than five dollars for a twelve-hour day to express their “gratitude” to the robber baron. Even the hack is repulsed but he plays along because sycophancy is lucrative. Ask Rihanna or Rod Stewart the next time you see them.
It’s a passionate, angry comedy with broadly drawn characters and quite a few laugh out loud scenes among the horror show. The big emotional kick comes at the end and Sony had wanted it cut out. We see clips of women factory workers alongside captions about their poverty wages, sexual inequality and Syrian refugees.
Greed shows that a vicious commentary on the modern economy can be presented as entertainment. It’s worth seeing.