Thinking about movies from the last decade, it’s interesting to see The Big Short as a significant influence on filmmakers. Something about the irreverence, flashiness, and messiness of a biographical corporate satire must have a certain level of appeal to filmmakers who are both in control and have a desire to comment on those pulling strings and making lots of money doing it. Greed is satire serving as both a commentary on the ultra-rich, as well as a vehicle for Steve Coogan to do what he’s very good at with ideally humorous results. The actual results may vary, as the film is crammed with characters, plots, and ideas, yet manages to feature many good bits. Given the multiple timelines the audience must keep up with, I suppose having just enough fun is about as acceptable as getting to see a tiger, even if it doesn’t move much.
Coogan stars as the fictional Sir Richard McCreadie, a fashion mogul who has sleazed his way near the top as a crooked entrepreneur skilled at producing results through shady financial practices. McCreadie will do whatever it takes to maintain a glitzy public image, which is why he’s putting together an elaborate Roman Colosseum-themed 60th birthday party on the Greek island of Mykonos (complete with a caged tiger). Not even the neighboring Syrian refugees are a match for McCreadie’s drive to glorifying himself by way of a Gladiator/Caligula mashup featuring celebrities who are more likely to be lookalikes than the real thing. But let’s back-up.
While much of the film is set in the present, we are also presented with flashbacks to McCreadie’s younger days that led to him becoming the person he is now, as well as a public court inquiry detailing his supposed misdeeds. Director Michael Winterbottom does what he can to balance these separate timelines in an attempt to deliver on some sort of clever structuring. However, it largely relies on Coogan’s ability to make a ridiculous character (with blindingly white teeth) strangely charismatic. It makes sense, I suppose, because McCreadie would need to be believably likable to succeed beyond his ability to haggle by way of magic tricks and small cons.
This is the 7th collaboration between Coogan and Winterbottom (with an 8th due in the form of The Trip to Greece later this year). There is clearly a level of comfort shared between the two of them. Whether or not seeing that energy channeled into another variation of Coogan’s popular Alan Partridge persona is enough to hold a baseline level of entertainment will determine how much there is to get out of this film.
To be fair, Greed has more than just Coogan to rely on. Also attending the birthday party, you have McCreadie’s ex-wife Samantha (Isla Fisher), and her new beau. The formerly married couple had two children as well; Asa Butterfield’s Finn, who is fitted with an Oedipus complex, and Sophie Cookson’s Lily McCreadie. Lily is joined by her boyfriend, and the two of them are the stars of their own reality show, which the film manages to get plenty of comedic mileage out of as well. Winterbottom regular Shirley Henderson is here as McCreadie’s mother, who was tasked with appearing as she does in a few flashbacks, only to wear old-age makeup for the rest of the film.
Where the McCreadie family works, other characters are rather hit or miss. A running gag concerning the assembly of a mini Colosseum allows for all involved to have some moments to shine. Meanwhile, less successful is the throughline involving David Mitchell as Nick, McCreadie’s biographer. While a good way to get various angles out there, the film never commits enough to have him register as even a solid audience surrogate. Worse yet is tying him to an emotional core of the film embodied by Amanda (Dinita Gohil), one of McCreadie’s assistants. A better film would find a way to deliver on her tragic backstory. As it stands, it’s better in conception than presentation.
Ideally, Greed would be able to find something meaningful in all of the chaos presented on screen. While there is something the film has to say about outsourced labor, blindness to those in need, and how opulence corrupts, the film is too stuffed and scattered to make the closing credit text wrap up mean more. Presenting certain facts can be enlightening, but following all the zingers, cringe moments, and at least one very shocking moment, it feels more like an [insert message here]-style of moment.
And yet, I did have fun hearing the zingers, going along with the silliness, and feeling engrossed by the out-of-control build-up to the big party. Perhaps Greed is good, or maybe it’s just shy of it. Still, while I wait for another season of Succession, I’m happy to hop across the pond for a bit with the confidence of Coogan and company delivering some frivolous fun amid grander ideas.