'Greed' Lacks the Bite Its White Colllar Satire Really Needs Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Starring Steve Coogan, Isla Fisher, David Mitchell
Published Mar 05, 2020In 2010, Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg played a pair of amiable dumbass cops in Adam McKay's The Other Guys. The movie was packed with the kind of blissfully moronic humour that only McKay and Ferrell could produce in their prime, but then it brashly switched tones in its denouement, peppering the closing credits with factoids about the housing crash and subsequent financial crisis. It was a bizarre shift that ultimately didn't work, and that's a similar problem that plagues Greed as well.
The umpteenth collaboration between writer-director Michael Winterbottom and star Steve Coogan (who was the white-collar criminal at the heart of The Other Guys). Winterbottom is a master at world-building, and he's done just that by choosing jaw-dropping Grecian locations and a wide array of memorable characters in Greed. Whether playing Alan Partridge or a vaguely exaggerated version of himself in The Trip series, Coogan is an expert at embodying weirdly likeable yet deviously awful assholes, and his new character Sir Richard McCreadie certainly fits the bill.
Nicknamed "Greedy McCreadie," Coogan's Greed character is the thin-skinned yet utterly ruthless magnate of a fast-fashion empire that has utilized every financial loophole and undercut every Indian clothing factory to make billions. Proving he's still some form of human being, he's also clearly experiencing some internal insecurities as he stares down the barrel of his 60th birthday. Of course, he deals with it by lashing out at the small army of workers he's hired to throw his extravagant birthday fête in the Mykonos.
Narratively, the film is loosely viewed through the eyes of Nick (David Mitchell), a doddering journalist who has been hired to research and write the official McCreadie biopic. He guides us through the nitty-gritty of the scams, sweatshops and legally dubious manoeuvres that made Coogan the king of the high street. His role is mostly for exposition's sake, although he still gets plenty of Peep Show calibre awkwardness in for good measure. In fact, Greed is a boon for British TV buffs. In addition to Coogan and Mitchell, the film includes appearances from Alan Partridge regular Tim Key and People Just Do Nothing's Asim Chaudhry (aka Chabuddy G) among many others. Further, Isla Fisher is, as per usual, a scene-stealer.
While it offers strong casting, however, the film falls apart in its attempt to take on, among other things, unchecked corporate greed, identity politics, racism, interfamily strife and even the refugee crisis. The film's aims are admirable, to be sure, and it could almost be the Four Lions of white-collar crime. But Winterbottom's shaggy hangout vibe and the film's strangely gentle comedic pace aren't exactly screaming truth to power.
Like The Other Guys, Greed's problems reach their peak in the closing credits. An early cut of the film featured factoids that pointed fingers at Zara and H&M by name, calling out the fast-fashion industry for the massive environmental and financial toil it's having on the world. Of course, when the film was picked up by Sony Picture Classics, the company opted to delete the names so as to avoid any awkwardness in potential future business meetings with those clients. The result is a strange and limp collection of vagaries about inequality that serve as a solid metaphor for Greed as a whole. If you love Michael Winterbottom, Steve Coogan or British comedy at large, it's a solid outing. But it isn't exactly going to change the world.