Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Starring Steve Coogan, David Mitchell, Isla Fisher, Sophie Cookson, Asa Butterfield, Shirley Henderson.
The Plot: Sir Richard McCreadie (Steve Coogan) drives a hard bargain. A shrewd businessman who knows how to haggle, over time he established his retail empire. Some high street stores failed, while others thrived to the point where he changed from a millionaire to a billionaire. He earned the nickname of ‘The Monet of Money’. He also earned the less lofty nickname of Greedy McCreadie, hoarding his money and making it off the backs of cheap, mostly female workers in Sri Lanka sweatshops. But none of that matters much right now. It’s his 60th birthday and in true McCreadie style he’s having a big, no-expense spared bash on Mykonos with his ex-wife Samantha (Isla Fisher), son Finn (Asa Butterfield), daughter and anxious reality TV star Lily (Sophie Cookson) and his official biographer Nick (David Mitchell)…
The Verdict: Michael Winterbottom is one of the UK’s most versatile directors. He flits between genres, subjects and styles of approach to tell stories that interest him – and which should interest audiences too. Like his contemporary Danny Boyle, he’s not easy to pin down or pigeonhole. His latest film Greed sees him in fine form as he presents a satire on the super rich. Sir Richard McCreadie prepares to celebrate his Roman-themed party on Mykonos with A-list celebrities (or lookalikes, just in case they don’t show), family, friends and a lion for good measure. His biographer Nick is in tow, resisting attempts to do a hatchet job despite all the accusations dogging his subject. Any resemblance to controversial British retail boss Sir Philip Green is entirely co-incidental. Maybe.
Winterbottom’s script is loosely structured. It moves back and forth in time, swanning about with McCreadie and his cronies as they indulge themselves. It occasionally changes perspectives to show how others view McCreadie, such as an assistant with a connection to Sri Lanka – and a potential axe to grind. In the hands of a less-skilled director the loose, casual structure would weaken the narrative and make McCreadie a caricature of all that is wrong with the super rich. Not so with Winterbottom. The loose structure works in the film’s favour, giving the audience a flavour of the man in both his younger and older years and what makes him tick. Just enough to show how he got to this point. The point where he wants to get rid of Syrian refugees from the Mykonos beach next to his party. His PR team give them food while on camera and then take it away when the cameras are off.
There’s a strain of sharp black humour running throughout the film. It’s quite pointed at times, highlighting why McCreadie doesn’t give a toss about anything other than having money, making more of it and having an exceptionally good time while spending it. Winterbottom is aided in no small part by frequent collaborator Coogan, who gives a delicious performance as the navel-gazing McCreadie. He’s all loud personality but with little empathy for his underlings and those much, much further down the totem pole like refugees and ultra low-paid foreign workers. Satire should be fun but it should also have a point to make. Winterbottom does so in the closing credits, which contain some sobering statistics about what goes into making a high-street store successful off the backs of cheap female Asian labour. The original credits named and shamed some well-known brands, but Sony balked at that idea for corporate reasons. Still, it’s a strong indictment of such shameful practices.
‘Greed, for the lack of a better word, is good.’ Gordon Gekko was right, as this Greed is certainly good. It’s engaging, entertaining and frequently very funny… but with a moral message that is subtle rather than heavy-handed. Winterbottom will ensure that you have a good time, as it’s his most enjoyable film in years. Throw some money at it.