Greed is Michael Winterbottom’s satire on the obscenely rich and, in particular, a billionaire, asset-stripping retail tycoon whose resemblance to any living person is purely intentional. (Hello, Sir Philip Green.) Plenty to work with, you would think. Low-hanging fruit and all that. But as the characters are so feebly sketched and the ‘jokes’ — ‘jokes’ in quotation marks; always a bad sign — are so heavy-handed it drags (and drags) rather than flies. Greed is good, greed works, Gordon Gekko famously said in Wall Street. But in this instance it isn’t. And doesn’t.
It stars Steve Coogan as Richard ‘Greed’ McCreadie who, when we first meet him, is planning a lavish 60th birthday celebration on the Greek island of Mykonos complete with togas and an amphitheater (custom-built) and a lion (Clarence; someone remembers Daktari). The film adopts a Citizen Kane-ish structure as it flits through time showing us McCreadie at school, doing his first deals, opening his first fast-fashion stores (‘Don’t judge it just because it’s budget’ is actually quite a decent slogan), stashing his riches in Monaco, trashing a BHS equivalent, and so on. He is joined on the island by his first wife (Isla Fisher), his hot new girlfriend (Shanina Shaik), his new teeth (played by some new teeth; the most convincing performance of the day) and his three grown-up children who are so poorly developed I have no idea why they’re included. (Asa Butterfield doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing here, and neither do we.) Also knocking about is David Mitchell as McCreadie’s official biographer and Dinita Gohil as Amanda, who works for McCreadie in some capacity or other (never specified). It turns out she has a personal connection to the Sri Lankan sweatshops, which is later exploited so clumsily and ham-fistedly it truly makes your heart sink. Ditto the Syrian refugees on the beach who must be banished from sight.
Winterbottom and Coogan are old-time collaborators: 24 Hour Party People, A Cock and Bull Story, The Look of Love and, for television, The Trip, which is plainly wonderful. Here, I was hoping for something like Sacha Baron Cohen’s Brüno. That is, something with bite. But it is quite boringly repetitive and also, if you’re not going to do the character work, then the satire has to be spot-on. Which it isn’t. Mostly, the ‘jokes’ never amount to much more than insults. ‘You need to take a look in the mirror and say to yourself: “I’m a cunt,”’ McCreadie might say to an employee who has messed up. Or it’s: ‘Shall I put you out of your misery? No. I’d have to perform a very late abortion for that.’
The only funny moment, in my book, is when James Blunt (such a sport) serenades McCreadie and his first wife with ‘You’re Beautiful’ at their window and McCreadie says: ‘£75,000. For the one song.’ So she says: ‘But then he does only have the one song.’ And I did laugh at that.
The film finishes with a cry for global economic justice as factual statistics are flashed over the end credits — ‘80 percent of garment workers are women’; ‘nine out of ten billionaires are men’; ‘women in Bangladesh earn £2 a day’ — but none of this feels especially well earned. And you could well have drifted off long before then anyhow.