Writer and Director: Michael Winterbottom
The rich are different from us. As well as having more money they also lack a sense of shame so are likely to be immune to satire. This may explain why writer/ director Michael Winterbottom expands the range of his satire Greed to criticise the wider aspects of capitalism such as tax avoidance and asset-stripping rather than just parody a single individual.
Greed is staged as a ‘mockumentary’ following high-street fashion tycoon Sir Richard (‘Greedy’) McCreadie (Steve Coogan), as he prepares for his 60th birthday party in Greece. However, the cameras capture McCreadie at a particularly low point- he has been embarrassed before a Parliamentary Committee and guests are dropping out of his party at an alarming rate. Worse, a group of refugees have set up base on the beach within sight of the party, and McCreadie’s official biographer Nick (David Mitchell) is discovering some very uncomfortable truths about how the tycoon made his fortune.
Greed is not a subtle film; Winterbottom makes his political points in a somewhat heavy-handed manner. At the party McCreadie’s employees are required to dress as slaves and there is the obvious comparison between the plight of the refugees and the over-privileged party guests. There is a sense the vulgarity of the characters embarrasses Winterbottom who constantly references classical works as if to raise the tone. Ozymandias, Shelley’s ode to hubris, is quoted, as is E M Forster’s urge for people to connect. One character behaves as if he is acting out an Oedipus complex while Isla Fisher, as McCreadie’s first wife, is very much in the mode of Lady Macbeth.
This is an uneven film with some aspects broadly comedic and others almost documentary style. The practice of asset stripping is explained, and the impact upon individuals and communities illustrated, in an understated manner, as if Winterbottom is confident the audience will be so outraged as to not require emotional provocation.
The character of McCreadie, on the other hand, is very broad, barely above a caricature. Former Topshop owner Philip Green is the inspiration for McCreadie. At one point, as Green did in real life, McCreadie demands that members of a Parliamentary Committee stop looking at him. Despite such prime material, the script does not give Steve Coogan a great deal to work with. There is no sense, for example, that McCreadie might be a social climber desperate to hold onto his knighthood and respectability. Wealth and all that goes with it are all he requires so despite Coogan illustrating McCreadie’s hateful bullying techniques the character remains stubbornly two-dimensional.
There is a dated feel to Greed. Public outrage has moved on from fat cats grabbing all they can and leaving others to face the consequences towards the over-privileged jetting around the world while lecturing the rest of us on how to lower our carbon footprints. Many of the outrageous antics shown in the movie- the idle rich gaining credibility by paying pop stars to appear at events they are hosting- are well known.
Greed is an odd combination of broad comedy and brutal facts that do not merge in a completely satisfying manner.
Release date 21st February 2020