Directed by Michael Winterbottom.
Starring Steve Coogan, Asa Butterfield, Isla Fisher, Sophie Cookson, Shirley Henderson, Stephen Fry, David Mitchell, Sarah Solemani, Jamie Blackley, Shanina Shaik, Asim Chaudhry, Pearl Mackie, Charlie Cooper, Jonny Sweet, Ollie Locke, Christophe de Choisy, Matt Bentley, Dinita Gohil, Caroline Flack, Tim Key, Paul Clayton, Jack Shepherd, James Blunt, Jessica Fostekew, Paul Higgins, Norman Cook, Pixie Lott, Paul Ritter, and Miles Jupp.
A retail billionaire’s 60th birthday party is celebrated in an exclusive hotel on the Greek island of Mykonos.
Writer and director Michael Winterbottom continues to return to more traditional narrative style films following a series of Trip films (containing both characters and storylines alongside a documentary approach to exploring the locations and cuisines of various countries). For Greed, an angry condemnation of capitalism and more specifically the fashion design industry (there is a fascinating quote before the credits roll noting that numerous celebrities endorse these clothing lines at the expense of ill-compensated workers), he has brought his frequent collaborator on those aforementioned movies, Steve Coogan.
Here, Steve Coogan plays an acid-tongued billionaire bully with his own thriving retail clothing business (alongside some bankrupt establishments and a confrontational attitude that also cements him as a Trumpian figure) on the verge of turning 60 and ready to celebrate an extravagant birthday bash over in Greece, partly as a publicity stunt to rebrand his deplorable image and, of course, indulge in the excesses of life. Vacationing there also isn’t enough, as he has his own team of workers (and some hired Bulgarians for no other reason that they work cheap, in case you need more of an explanation of what kind of a dehumanizing person this rich jackass is) constructing a gladiator Coliseum from scratch (the film itself is referenced a bunch) complete with a lion and appropriate wardrobes that begin to take on uglier meanings the more Greed goes on.
If Michael Winterbottom had played this straight, these characters (which include an equally materialistic wife played by Isla Fisher, some children and other family members all of which are filming a reality TV show as preparations for the birthday party are underway) would come across insufferable. We would despise them and find no redeeming qualities within their screentime. Instead, the proceedings are played as a farce with Michael Winterbottom’s trademark documentary touch (accompanied by to be expected gorgeous travelogue cinematography to ogle) as the film utilizes a journalist character Nick (David Mitchell) commissioned to write a biography on the fashion mogul. This allows for mockumentary interviews to take place with a host of characters, as the film tries to get to the bottom of Richard McCreaadie’s (Steve Coogan) rotten soul and how he rose to be such a financial powerhouse. Naturally, these elements also pave the way to mine some truly funny dark humor from these situations and characters that have absolutely zero self-awareness.
Between building all kinds of over-the-top gladiator nonsense for the birthday celebration, the reality TV show, the prying into the life of Richard via talking to influences on his life (Greed also uses some of these conversations as an opportunity to throw up some flashbacks, mostly showcasing Richard’s affection and skill for gambling and magic tricks at a young age, with the latter being an explanation for his business success), the experience can feel all over the place and chaotic, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing here. At any moment, it truly feels like all of this can blow up in Richard’s face, especially with intercut scenes showing that he may not be as well-off financially as it looks, with pressure coming down on his world. Not to mention, his greed knows no boundaries that it does make for a blackly funny film (even if Michael Winterbottom’s outrage is on the nose, at least it has more restraint than a Jay Roach movie). Unfortunately, diving into the morality of Nick’s writer character doesn’t seem to be a concern, especially when what he should write about Richard and journalistic integrity becomes more of a tossed out idea that fades away.
The point is also made that Richard has taken advantage of Sri Lankan workers. Even worse, he gets into a spat with the refugees of Greece also trying to have a good time at the resort. All of it builds to a surprising revelation, as Richard’s humorous antics go from amusing to downright evil. Michael Winterbottom excels at slowly transitioning the tone into something far less comedic and more furious at the state of things. He’s having fun with these characters, but whether he’s interested in putting them in their place or not, there’s still a sad reality that the fashion industry encompasses all sins and needs major reform.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com