Starring Steve Coogan, David Mitchell, Isla Fisher, Ollie Locke, Sophie Cookson. Directed by Michael Winterbottom.
Greed opens with a very poignant cameo: Caroline Flack, recently in the news after tragically taking her own life, plays herself in a faux press conference that introduces us to the protagonist of the film. For many, this might be the last time they see the TV personality on screen, so to see her smiling on a big screen may be a comfort.
Greed is the new film by Michael Winterbottom, who when he’s good is very good, and when he’s bad is nearly insufferable. Perhaps best known for his work with Coogan (24 Hour Party People, A Cock and Bull Story, The Look of Love, The Trip) he directed controversial and explicit films in 9 Songs, notoriously featuring unassimilated sex, and The Killer Inside Me, which caused many issues.
Winterbottom’s more social heart has shown in documentaries such as The Road to Guantanamo and The Emperor’s New Clothes, and the drama film A Mighty Heart which earned Angelina Jolie a Golden Globe nomination.
Greed is a not so subtle parody of the disgraced empire of Sir Phillip Green, who was instrumental in the fall of British Home Stores (BHS) among other controversies. Here, Steve Coogan plays Sir Richard McCreadie, as he prepares for a lavish 60th birthday party on the Greek island of Mykonos, in an effort to cover up for his many actions. What follows is a look into the empire he scammed, and the lives that he affected.
From the off, Coogan is fantastic, caustic and cruel without any sense of irony. This is not surprising, Coogan has always been able to perform strongly in comedy and tragedy. Alan Partridge, perhaps his most enduring role, is tragic and hilarious in equal measure, while his turns as real-life people like Martin Sixsmith, Tony Wilson and Paul Raymond, and to a small extent himself in the fictional forms, are all tinged with that pathetic air.
In a Greed, Coogan portrays Sir Richard McCreadie as a truly loathsome individual, calling people the C word for small mistakes and driving impossible deals to rake in a higher profit. It would be funnier, if he wasn’t portraying a real-world personality.
His family is fleshed out by his stern Irish mother, played by Shirley Henderson in subtle but effective old-age make-up, his vapid, fake-breasted ex-wife (Isla Fisher), his borderline anti-social younger son (Asa Butterfield) and his beloved daughter (Sophie Cookson) the star of a Made in Chelsea style show (complete with Ollie Locke in a role as her thick-as-pig-muck boyfriend).
The whole film is, by and large, centred on David Mitchell, as a man trying to write a biography on McCreadie, and slowly uncovering the people he stepped on along the way. There are elements of humour in this – Asim Chaudrey plays a lion wrangler who can’t get the lion to “perform”, and Sarah Solemani has a Thick of It-type role as McCreadie’s assistant.
The film is being advertised as a The Wolf of Wall Street style satire that shows the excess and vulgar actions of the rich and callous, and half the film is that, his rise to power and the lead up to his party where problem piles on problem, but subtly and then less so the film does what Scorsese’s Jordan Belfort epic didn’t. It looks at those affected.
McCreadie likes to win, likes the deal, we’re told with his usual tactics, and even as Miles Jupp grills him in a hearing over his underhanded and borderline illegal actions to build wealth, we find that there are bodies (both metaphorical and very physical) paving his ivory tower. The film’s subplots are many, and while Coogan is on fire, and the jabs at the rich (paranoid, cruel, racist, cheap) are funny. The subplot regarding Syrian refugees on the public beach being ushered away and exploited at the whims of the rich becomes a much more moving story.
Actual syrian refugee Kareem Alkabbani is quietly moving as the person charged with looking after his people, trying to keep the children safe, while the rich and white who swan into countries for tax evasion reasons get away with calling them freeloading immigrants. Alongside him, the supporting role of Dinita Gohil as assistant Amanda starts as a potential love interest for David Mitchell (yawn) but instead transforms into the heart of the film.
The flashy visuals that show the vapid nature of the wealthy is expertly juxtaposed against the abject poverty of the poor, shown in documentary form. Work cheap, work hard, work until death is shown over and over again, and if it grates for the viewer, it kills for those who actually live it. One sequence told as a flashback is particularly moving, and Gohil sells the changing attitude of her character so expertly you’d think she was as seasoned and lauded as her above the title counterparts.
The film’s sardonic but also melancholic ending gives us the sense that Winterbottom has no hope for the future of the world, and it’s true that the lack of effects Green faced, and many others seem to face (one currently sitting in the Oval Office). But, as it ends, you may find that you ask yourself very serious questions about how we treat the poorer. Greed is a deadly sin, but when it’s as entertaining and pointed as this, sign us up for confession.
Paul Klein is a Film Studies Graduate from London, former writer at The Metropolist.