Directed by Michael Winterbottom.
Starring Steve Coogan, David Mitchell, Isla Fisher, Asa Butterfield, Sarah Solemani and Shirley Henderson.
He is prolific to the point of incontinence but whatever topic or style he is turning his talents to, you can rely on Winterbottom to bring a bit of dash to it; but usually preceded by some slap. Which is to say that his goals are usually superior to his execution. Here he applies himself to the noble pursuit of crafting a character assassination of Sir Philip Greene, the public school-educated barrow boy who became The King of the High Street even though he didn't have any fashion sense. It's a very thorough character assassination, an effective dismantling of the smoke and mirrors of his success. Even so, in the end you may come out unfulfilled by Winterbottom's marksmanship – you've killed him but have you killed him enough? Couldn't you have killed him a bit more?
The Greene surrogate is called McCreadie, simply so he can be Greedy MacCreedie in the headlines. The film has a loose Citizen Kane structure with Mitchell as the hack employed to write an authorised biography of him. Around the preparation for his Rome-themed 60th birthday party on a Greek island, we flashback to Mitchell's investigation into his past: the low paid sweatshops in Sri Lanka where his clothes are made and how he made his fortune by asset stripping and tax avoidance. He's a billionaire who never really made any money.
The young McCreadie is played with enormous vim by Jamie Blackley, who really gives you a sense of empty ambition. The older McCreadie is Coogan which is a mixed blessing. Coogan is funny but he is so associated with playing British monsters that his characterisation just seems like an extension of Partridge or all the other monsters he has played for Winterbottom: Tony Wilson, Paul Raymond, Steve Coogan.
It paints an ugly picture that ties up all the modern ills like refugees and celebrity culture but it is frustratingly slack. When the mechanics of asset stripping are explained, how you buy a successful company by saddling it with debt, the delivery and the graphics don't have the snap they have in something like The Big Short. Any number of familiar faces, from Stephen Fry to James Blunt, turn up to register their support and show that they are against this type of thing, but they make it seem all a bit too cosy. The closing credits have some graphics listing the statistic about inequality and exploitation. Winterbottom has been in the Guardian complaining that Sony has censored them, forced him to withdraw ones that named names. But they are still shocking and hard-hitting, in a way that the film isn't, not really. Maybe we've become inured to the horror of it all, and when it is embodied by Steve Coogan it becomes something we are complacently acceptant of.
It's a grim film all round; though Winterbottom does manage to contrive a happy ending.