by George Wolf
Greed is a film with a big, timely target and a handful of well-groomed darts. But as much as it consistently lands shots on the board, it never gets close to the bullseye.
To be fair, landing a knockout satire is no easy trick. That writer/director Michael Winterbottom can’t manage it is one problem, but you’re never quite sure he’s fully committed to trying, which is the bigger issue.
He did land a stellar cast, starting right at the top with Steve Coogan, who plays retail fashion mogul Sir Richard McCreadie to pompous perfection.
McCreadie, Britain’s “Monet of Money,” is ready to celebrate his 60th birthday with a huge, Gladiator-themed blowout on the coast of Greece, complete with a recreated Coliseum, a live lion, and entertainment from Elton and Coldplay.
Those Syrian refugees camped out on the public beach, though? Yeah, they’re ruining the view, so they’ll have to go.
While McCreadie’s mother (Shirley Henderson), his ex-wife Samantha (Isla Fisher), their son (Hugo‘s Asa Butterfield, all grown up!) and various employees and hangers-on dodge his frequent outbursts, official biographer Nick (David Mitchell) is trying to make sense of it all.
Winterbottom, writer and/or director for all of Coogan’s The Trip franchise, uses Nick’s fact-finding as the catalyst for plenty of time hopping. From a ruthless young McCreadie (Jamie Blackley) building his empire to a well-scripted episode of “reality” television filming alongside the party planning, Greed unveils a surface-level social consciousness in search of a clear direction.
There’s absurdity, clever amusements and some outright laughs (especially McCreadie haggling over the prices for big-ticket entertainers and a financial writer explaining the illusion of money), but Winterbottom doesn’t seem to trust himself – or his audience- enough to get off the pulpit and commit to satire.
The unveiling of shady business deals, the folly of the “self-made man” and the distance between wealth and consequence is all valid terrain, but Greed is content with paths less challenging and more obvious.
And on one occasion, the film’s timing works against it, because as great as this cast is at dry humor and glossy obnoxiousness, hearing someone label McCreadie a “parasite” only underscores how vital this class warfare theme can be with more inspired execution.