Parodying the ultra-rich, ultra-selfish and ultra-stupid may be a victimless crime, because only the ultra-rich (and selfish and stupid) consort with the ultra-rich (and selfish and stupid), but there’s good parody, and there’s lazy parody made in assurance that rich folks deserve every punchline written about them. Michael Winterbottom’s Greed falls under the latter distinction, an over-directed jab at Topshop honcho Philip Green and the culture, whether high street’s or international finance’s, that let him get away with filling his pockets by dodging taxes and abusing third world laborers.
Green is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad human being, and no one should pity him for his legal woes or Greed’s unsparing condemnation of his crimes. Green doesn’t figure directly into Winterbottom’s film, though. The villain here is Richard McCreadie, a spray-tanned caricature spun from Green’s cloth and played by Winterbottom’s favorite leading man, Steve Coogan. Their collaborations range from The Trip, plus its two (and counting) sequels, and 2013’s The Look of Love, their biopic about the life and times and tragedies of porn maestro Paul Raymond.
Greed, in the abstract, is spiritual kin to The Look of Love, both being stories where the sins of the wealthy catch up to them in the form of either legal justice or cosmic comeuppance. While the latter gives weight to its consequences and, much more importantly, follows a well-defined throughline from start to finish, Greed jams a handful of movies into one: one about the bullshit fakery of reality television, one about over-privileged youth in conflict with their parents, another a movie about the social ramifications of heartless immigration policy, another about pecuniary skullduggery. It’s Winterbottom’s structure that’s the problem; Greed lacks a foundation sturdy enough to hold his competing plots together. They exist uneasily in the same house until the whole damn thing collapses on everyone jockeying for screen time inside.
This is a waste of good billionaire satire (and at a moment in time when billionaire satire can have damn near palliative effects), and a waste of a marvelous Coogan performance. As “Greedy” McCreadie, he’s a gleaming beacon of awfulness: His charm is immense, his vanity boundless, his net worth astronomical, his mouth quick and vulgar and his manhood lacking, thus explaining his reckless need to funnel resources into creating an illusion of youth. His ex-wife, Samantha (Isla Fisher), is younger than he by far, and his current wife, Naomi (Victoria’s Secret model Shanina Shaik), is younger still, just as one example of how money preserves vitality. But money can’t stop time, so McCreadie throws an elaborate 60th birthday bash on Mykonos, Gladiator-themed down to the fighting ring built to cage Chekov’s lion. (There is a tiger in Gladiator, not a lion, but try telling McCreadie that.)
If Greed spent its time only on Mykonos, observing the scramble to pull off McCreadie’s party without a hitch (but in which hitches figure regardless), it would’ve improved as a movie. Instead, Winterbottom creates a framing device around Nick (David Mitchell), journalist turned McCreadie biographer, cutting to Nick in interviews with McCreadie’s old mentors, colleagues and cohorts, then cutting further to flashbacks of McCreadie’s salad days. Even in Greed’s present, McCreadie stays out of focus: His assistants and contractors and cronies and children take up an inordinate amount of real estate, each with their own personal drama to tend. His son, Finn (Asa Butterfield), hates him but lusts after Naomi. His daughter, Lily (Sophie Cookson), traipses around the island with her TV boyfriend and a camera crew, filming a Siesta Key style series. His event planner, Amanda (Dinita Gohil), observes his ill-treatment of Syrian refugees camping on a beach adjacent to his lavish pad, and reflects on her immigrant’s journey. The list goes on. And on. And on.
Somewhere amidst the clamor and self-satisfied mockery, the audience catches flashes of Coogan in all his spray-tanned, bleach-toothed glory, caterwauling and cursing and fussing over details, indulging his excesses as any good Roman emperor edging toward his downfall would. Coogan has a gift for ballooning his characters larger than life, even when he’s his own character (The Trip), and McCreadie is no exception. Greed’s attention deficit shrinks his work and reduces his role as its star. Winterbottom clearly has much to say—the end credits sprawl is preempted by a series of genuinely alarming figures about the billionaire class and workers’ pay (see also: any of Adam McKay’s recent, thunderously dull output)—but saying it all cuts his movie off at the knees. As Greed’s concentration vacillates, it dilutes both Coogan’s portrait of McCreadie and the impact of its own contempt.
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Writer: Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Steve Coogan, Isla Fisher, Nick Mitchell, Shirley Henderson, Asa Butterfield, Dinita Gohil, Shanina Shaik, Sophie Cookson, Sarah Solemani, Asi Chaudry
Release Date: March 6, 2020
Bostonian culture journalist Andy Crump covers the movies, beer, music, and being a dad for way too many outlets, perhaps even yours. He has contributed to Paste since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected work at his personal blog. He’s composed of roughly 65% craft beer.