Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan have collaborated — mostly successfully — on satires sending up human frailties for nearly 20 years: the drugginess of the Manchester music scene in 24 Hour Party People, fame and ego in A Cock and Bull Story, aging in The Trip series. Their latest, though, the simply but heavily titled Greed, trades in any of those previous films’ subtleties and novelties for a heavy-handed lesson about why capitalism is bad.
Now, before I get torched by Rose Twitter for knocking a movie that tries to tear down unchecked avarice, let me say: Sir Richard “Greedy” McReadie, the fast-fashion tycoon Coogan plays here, is an utterly contemptible figure. Modeled after Philip Greene, the owner of Topshop, McReadie is revealed — through a series of flashbacks that run from posh Thatcherite London to a modern-day Parliamentary inquest — as a con man who’s used a series of finance vehicles and bookkeeping tricks to become increasingly wealthy, leaving hundreds of closed stores and countless thousands of unemployed workers in his wake.
Masking the never-ending scam is McReadie’s public image as “King of the High Street,” giving Coogan an excuse to vamp about in a spray tan and bleached teeth. Greed’s present-day events revolve around a planned 60th birthday for McReadie on the Greek island of Mykonos, a real-world dilettante’s playground, replete with Gladiator-inspired Roman costumes, fireworks, a plywood coliseum, and a live, trained lion for the birthday boy to mug with.
Had Greed focused exclusively on either McReadie’s rise to power or the disgusting fête, the film might’ve had a better chance of succeeding. Instead, it’s overstuffed with too many rich-people-things that Winterbottom, who also wrote the script with an assist from former Armando Iannucci collaborator Sean Grey, grabbed while looking for things mock without letting any of the best jokes breathe on their own. Isla Fisher, as McReadie’s ex-wife and business partner, is used more as a vehicle for backstory than for her own considerable comedic talents. Subplots featuring one of McReadie’s daughters (Sophie Cookson) accompanied by a Keeping Up With the Kardashians-style film crew, and a group of refugees sheltering on the beach, feel tacked on.
But Greed’s biggest liability may be that it arrives well after other, more successful attempts to show the dangers of capitalism. The Big Short and The Laundromat used clever tricks in explaining how the global financial system really works, while shows like Succession and Best Picture-winner Parasite revel in showing bad rich people behaving badly.
But those titles thrive on showing the wreckage wealth and greed leaves behind. Aside from an official biographer (David Mitchell) and a lone employee (Dinita Gohil) who come to see the wickedness, Greed does not dwell much on the McReadies’ victims, preferring instead to show one extravagance after another. What’s left is a tedious series of comedic misfires, and possibly the least surprising animal mauling in cinema history. Lucky for anyone looking for a real cinematic lesson on money, though, we live in a creative marketplace where there are so many better options, so, uh, good job on that, capitalism.