Every Thursday, TMINE reviews two movies, carefully avoiding infringing a former mobile phone company’s trademarked marketing gimmick
This week is a first for Orange Thursday, as it’s actually going to preview a film that isn’t yet out: Michael Winterbottom’s Greed (2020), which sees Steve Coogan playing a thinly veiled version of certain retail giants.
Also up this week, balancing out the immediacy of Greed is Gemini Man (2019), in which Will Smith has to fight Will Smith to the death.
See you after the ads and the trailers.
Greed tells the story of self-made British billionaire Sir Richard McCreadie, whose retail empire is in crisis. For 30 years he has ruled the world of retail fashion, bringing the high street to the catwalk and the catwalk to the high street. But after a damaging public inquiry, his image is tarnished.
To save his reputation, he decides to bounce back with a highly publicised and extravagant party celebrating his 60th birthday on the Greek island of Mykonos.
Despite the advertising, Greed is not really about Steve Coogan’s gestalt retail tycoon composite of mainly Philip Green, with hints of Alan Sugar, Gerald Ratner and others. Rather, as the name suggests, it’s a look at both greed and the problems in the world that both create and stem from wealth inequality and greedy western retail firms exploiting the people of developing countries.
The first half of the movie is deceptive in this regard, as it appears at first to be a thinly veiled biopic of Philip Green. We flash between Coogan’s 60th birthday on Mykonos and various parts of his life story, from his time at boarding school through his departure from boarding school and founding of various new firms all the way through to the present day.
All of this is being chronicled by Shakespeare-quoting writer David Mitchell, who’s also a dab hand at the Greek classics, so don’t be too surprised when you learn that the film’s structure refers to both tragic and Shakespearean traditions.
Along the way, Mitchell – and we – learn from financial journalists and other all about the not so noble art of asset stripping and how Coogan has effectively become a billionaire not through his skills at retail (which are actually pretty poor), but at acquiring profitable companies and taking all their money, rendering them bankrupt.
Greed doesn’t work
We also meet Coogan’s family, friends, employees, ex-family, ex-friends and ex-employees. The family all hate him, when they’re not all busily filming a Made in Chelsea style reality TV show.
All of which is funny and pointed, but not that funny and not that pointed. We get the set-ups for various jokes, such as the building of a Roman amphi-theatre on Mykonos, but nothing much ever really comes of them. Instead, the time required to do so is given over to dealing with some refugees (based on real-life refugees) who are camped out on Mykonos’ public beaches.
Because the second half of the movie, as well as pushing through the hubris, catharsis and nemesis cycle of tragedy that sees the inevitable downfall of the king, is as much dedicated to highlighting the inequalities of the retail industry. I’m not sure how much Mitchell is getting paid to write a puff-piece bio, but he’s able to fly to India and investigate Coogan’s factories and his workers’ living conditions, all of which it’s a little hard to make jokes about.
The film ends with a series of placards detailing statistics about various firms and billionaires that would have been even more pointed had Sony allowed it. But it’s really smashing home a message that the previous hour had already covered in significant detail.
I liked Greed but I wanted to like it far more than I actually did. It’s a clever script with a great cast, great locations and a lot to say for itself. But it’s not as funny as it should be and never really earns the nemesis for its protagonist that is eventually meted out.
Gemini Man (2019)
Henry Brogan is an elite 51-year-old assassin who’s ready to call it quits after completing his 72nd job. His plans get turned upside down when he becomes the target of a mysterious operative who can seemingly predict his every move. To his horror, Brogan soon learns that the man who’s trying to kill him is a younger, faster, cloned version of himself.
Not to be confused with Gemini Man, the script for Gemini Man (2019) has actually been doing the rounds for about 20 years, waiting for the technology to become available to make it a reality. Ang Lee – whose love of cinema technology is only matched by his love of scripts about men with daddy issues – thinks that time is now.
He’s wrong. We’re nearly there, but not yet. There are scenes where you absolutely do believe that’s the young Will Smith and the old Will Smith together in the same place. Then there are other scenes where you’re not sure who that’s supposed to be but it’s not Will Smith. Then there are other scenes where yes, that is Will Smith but why is his face moving like he’s one of Stan Winston’s Terminator animatronics?
It might be that another effects house would have done a better job, judging by some of the other, non-deageing stunt scenes. The Marvel movies have pulled off both de-ageing and weighty stunt scenes, but there are numerous instances in Gemini Man where Smith and others appear to be made of elastic; even the animation on objects such as motorbikes is glitchy.
Whatever the case, you won’t believe more than 50% of the time that you can make an old man young again. Or that bad guy Clive Owen is American.
De-aging the script
The script, though, would have been the same no matter what and here we’re running into a few issues. On the one hand, this feels like a Will Smith movie of old, with the film serving the star well, while still being happy to acknowledge the once Fresh Prince’s increasing proximity to his sell-by date.
But it also gives co-star Mary Elizabeth Winstead (BrainDead) a lot to do. You think she’s going to be a damsel in distress, but she’s not; neither is she Smith’s love interest, both of which make a refreshing change. Even comic relief Benedict Wong gets good treatment.
But the script’s underlying concept – let’s clone the best assassin in the world so we’ll always have the best assassin in the world – doesn’t really hold up on its own terms. It acknowledges that it’s not enough to have good genetics, you also have to have good training, too, and that a clone made now will still have to grow up for 20 years like a normal person before it can be of use.
Yet, it never acknowledges that that upbringing will do anything more than potentially give someone better manners. The two Smiths are identical in thought process and skills, even though Smith Senior presumably didn’t spend his entire childhood training to be an assassin and then spent 30 years doing other things including joining the marines – which, of course Smith Jr didn’t.
So is everything genetic while simultaneously nothing is genetic?
Yep, it’s nonsense.
But it’s fun nonsense. It has some good fight scenes, although they’re a little too influenced by Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for their own good, and some clever moments. The central cast is good and the script undercuts the normal way conspiracy theory scripts play out.
Go in expecting nothing and be pleasantly surprised. But definitely don’t expect to believe that’s two Will Smiths.