Director: Michael Winterbottom
Writers: Michael Winterbottom and Sean Gray
Starring: Steve Coogan, David Mitchell, Isla Fisher
Self-made British billionaire Sir Richard ‘Greedy’ McCreadie (Coogan) has made his fortune by exploiting and tax avoiding while ruling the world of retail for 30 years. However, after a damaging public enquiry his empire is at risk of crumbling and his reputation deeply tarnished. To save his reputation he decides to bounce back with a highly publicized, extravagant and star-studded party celebrating his 60th birthday on the Greek island of Mykonos.
British director Michael Winterbottom has had a career that has been both prolific and diverse, and his latest offering is a satire that is part comedy, part melodrama, part mockumentary about the morally bankrupt and excruciatingly vein super-rich. Though this film is of course officially fictional, there are certainly a fair few comparisons to one particular individual that a British audience will certainly be familiar with (Sir Philip Green) and the life he has lead, how he has run his business empire and indeed one his own birthday parties apparently.
Winterbottom has certainly given us some great films during his relentlessly prolific career and some of those have been collaborations with Steve Coogan, but alas Greed is in my opinion certainly not up there as one of their best; it is certainly a film with some very enjoyable moments, but Winterbottom’s seemingly excessive attempts to make a comment on so many aspects of modern capitalism and society as a whole proves to be the film’s ultimate undoing. Winterbottom tries to put in so many ideas and commentaries about so many things that it often produces an overstuffed film with an inconsistent tone that is overall quite unsatisfying, and I do not expect it to have the kind of impact that Winterbottom and Coogan want, as all of the film’s underlying (and at times too blatant) messages will not inform the average educated viewer of anything they do not already know.
For me Greed is at its best when it is being farcical and comedic, and there are some absolutely hilarious moments involving the very talented all-star cast; Sophie Cookson is great is the social media obsessed daughter that has a part in a Made in Chelsea style reality show, Shirley Henderson is a blast as Richard’s mother, Jamie Blackley is a joy to watch as the younger Richard in what are some great scenes showing his early years as he manipulates those around him, Asim Choudhry is great as the owner of the lion that Richard demands to have present at his lavish and farcical birthday. David Mitchell (as expected) just plays himself, but as the self-hating journalist that gets to know McCready’s opulent world and increasingly hate it, he is supposed to be the character that is our access to this often inaccessible world, and is perfectly likeable and often very funny in his role, even if it is essentially Mark Corrigan, journalist (he is even into ancient history!).
The star of the film is of course Coogan, and complete with his perfectly emulsion white teeth is a joy to watch, whether that be in a select committee trying to justify his unethical approach to running his businesses, or at his ostentatious, but ultimately farcical birthday party trying to keep face, he is a joy to watch as a caricature of extreme and corrupt capitalism. His attempts to recreate the film Gladiator with a cheaply and hastily put together wooden recreation of the Colosseum or conversations regarding how much certain celebrities and singers charge to appear (and also sing) at events are all very funny in an effectively farcical and satirical way.
However, what ultimately lets the film down is its tendency to also resort to being patronisingly preachy and way too melodramatic, especially in the film’s final third. Turning up on the nearby beach are bunch of immigrants, but the film deals with them in a way too casual and narratively convenient way, which is actually slightly hypocritical considering the film’s main ideological arguments. Likewise, the film’s supposedly more serious story arc involving one of his assistant’s (played by Dinita Gohil) who is of Bangladeshi origin, and has a mother that worked in one of the very factories that exploits workers and supplies to clothes to some of McCreadie’s shops. This is a subplot that involves human tragedy, and though it is quite obvious what (admittedly important) point Winterbottom is trying to make, the way it is added to the narrative feels very forced, and so lacks the emotional impact that was intended. Some of the more ‘dramatic’ narrative developments in the final third also feel more like a personal catharsis for those involved than an actual legitimate narrative development, and the fact it does not fit with the overall narrative does undermine some of the good work that is done in the film’s first two thirds.
Anyone who knows anything about the world will be aware of all of the more ‘serious’ themes of Greed anyway, but will the film’s increasingly lecture-like tone (especially in the closing credits when we are giving various statistics accompanied by Abba’s Money, money, money) stop them from shopping in all of those famous low price clothes shops? Of course not!
There is no denying that Winterbottom is a great filmmaker (one of my personal favourites), but he often goes too far in Greed to make easy and cheap political points, and in doing so actually will patronise and alienate many viewers. It is a film that is at its best when it is being silly and successfully mocking the way-too-easy-to-parody lifestyles of the rich and famous with an appropriate level of dry, satirical humour, but then at its worst when it tries to adopt a more serious (but unconvincing) tone.
Despite the vast array of talent involved, there is no denying that Greed is a mixed bag; at times a hilariously farcical satire, but at other times a hypocritical and misjudged preachy and patronising propaganda piece. It is certainly worth a watch for some great comedic moments, but sadly its more serious moments are likely to be forgotten.