Producers: Damian Jones and Melissa Parmenter Director: Michael Winterbottom Screenplay: Michael Winterbottom and Sean Gray Cast: Steve Coogan, David Mitchell, Isla Fisher, Shirley Henderson, Asa Butterfield, Dinita Gohil, Sophie Cookson, Shanina Shaik, Sarah Solemani, Asim Chaudhry, Manolis Emmanouel, Ollie Locke and Paul Higgins Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
The latest collaboration between Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan has a good deal on its mind—too much, in fact, to be particularly funny. “Greed” plays like a checklist of grievances to be aired, not the cutting-edge satire it apparently aspires to be; it offers a few laughs, but seems more intent on making didactic points, and not subtly.
Coogan plays Sir Richard McCreadie, popularly known as McGreedy, a British clothing mogul who makes Gordon Gekko look like a piker. Using cutthroat techniques, including Asian sweatshop labor, he’s risen to the top of his field, producing cheap knock-offs of expensive fashions and bankrupting business after business without a care for professional propriety or financial honesty.
In doing so he’s amassed a fortune—and a fractured family. His mother Margaret is a crusty old broad who enjoys his bounty. His wife Samantha (Isla Fisher) does too, but is manifestly unfaithful, which is hardly a problem since he is as well, his mistress at the moment lovely Naomi (Shanina Shaik). Their children are troubled souls in different ways. Son Finn (Asa Butterfield) is treated dreadfully by his father and responds with simmering hostility, while daughter Lily (Sophie Cookson) has relationship problems, including with the fellow she’s currently making an ersatz “reality” program with.
To celebrate his sixtieth birthday Richard is planning a big bash on the Aegean island of Mykonos, a sort of super toga party where the famous will come together to sing his praises with just a touch of irony, some (like Stephen Fry) in person, but most via Skype messages. The planned culmination is some sort of show in a cobbled together simulacrum of a gladiatorial arena, where a lion will be part of the program.
Much of what’s revealed about Richard’s life comes via the investigations of Nick (David Mitchell), a sad-sack, eager-to-please guy who’s writing his biography. In a chaotic montage of parliamentary hearings, flashbacks, and present-day scenes, we see how McCreadie became the abusive, selfish monster he is, a man willing to do anything and everything to make money and keep it even as he cheats and brutalizes others and twists the law to his ends.
At Mykonos he’s especially irritated by a group of refugees that have set up shop on the beach, where they will be visible from his party venue, and instructs his put-upon aide Amanda (Dinita Gohil) to get them out of sight. But Amanda has, we learn in a flashback, a good reason to hold a grudge against her employer. Of course she’s hardly the only one. What eventually occurs during the festivities involves that lion, which—like the gun Chekhov mentions being seen in the first act of a play—has to be employed before the film ends. And it is in a rather ghastly way, despite warnings of the danger the beast poses from its keeper (Asim Chaudhry).
Coogan spits out Richard’s vituperation with venom, despite being saddled with a pair of false teeth so large that one might believe they’d make it impossible. The rest of the cast go through the motions effectively enough, but only Henderson manages to bring much spikiness to her character.
The problem they all have, frankly, is that the screenplay Winterbottom and Sean Gray have devised tries to hit too many targets simultaneously; the result is narrative chaos, exacerbated by the undisciplined direction, Giles Nuttgens’ slapdash cinematography and editing by Liam Hendricks Heath, Marc Richardson and Mags Arnold so desperate to cram everything in that the result is exhaustion. Even if one agrees with the points the film is making, by the time it closes with monitory graphs and exhortations to action you’re likely not to care much—which is hardly the effect Winterbottom and his cohorts are after.
And, of course, the lack of laughs is a problem. Of course, perhaps “Greed” wasn’t intended to be funny at all. If that’s the case, it succeeds all too well. Unfortunately, the lessons it hopes to instill come off as more hectoring than instructive.