Director: Michael Winterbottom
Screenwriter: Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Steve Coogan, David Mitchell, Isla Fisher, Shirley Cookson, Pearl Mackie, Asa Butterfield, Ollie Locke
During a press interview for Greed (2020) – via Kermode and Mayo – producer and lead star Steve Coogan stated that screenwriter-director Michael Winterbottom’s films are ‘deep waters lightly skipped over’. Greed is clearly not a Winterbottom film.
This 2020 release, which made its debut during November’s BFI London Film Festival (2019), tells the story of billionaire Sir Richard McCreadie (Coogan), who is “loosely”, but at the same time very obviously, based on former British Home Stores owner Sir Phillip Green, preparing for his 60th Birthday party. But it is also about how he got rich and famous, told through the lens of Nick (Mitchell) who is writing his biography. Though what it is actually about is the terrible treatment of those who make the clothing for McCreadie’s stores. But what is really about is the difference between the super rich and the poor in modern western capitalist society. I think.
That is to say that this film is a bit of a mess.
In Greed, Winterbottom, as writer and director, is trying to do too many things at once. You think you are on board with the narrative and then it moves off in a different direction. There are some clear attempts at humour, of which the vast majority fall almost uncomfortably flat. Disappointingly, as a fan of Coogan, it seems Winterbottom thought that writing him a character with ridiculously white teeth who says the C-word every second line was enough to make a funny movie, or at least a comment on the caricature nature of billionaires in our current age, yet neither truly came to fruition.
Despite the writing, Coogan is still Coogan and is therefore great to spend 100 minutes with, even if he is playing a horrible person, while co-star Isla Fisher (as Coogan’s on-screen wife Samatha McCreadie) is excellent as the only character who worked to ensure a polite giggle, her performance being the real saving grace of the film.
There is a running joke in Greed that McCreadie’s daughter (Sophie Cookson) is on a reality TV show with her boyfriend Fabian, played by Ollie Locke. Locke famously dated Chloe Green, daughter of Sir Phillip Green, who appeared on the actual reality TV show ‘Made In Chelsea’.
The jokes the film presents about scripted reality shows in general are played for laughs one too many times; Fabian forgets his lines or someone walks into shot, for example. This makes the film feel very dated; jokes about scripted reality shows have been and gone. Winterbottom started this project in 2016, which makes more sense of his choice to include these jokes (2016 being at the height of the ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ boom), but it doesn’t necessarily excuse it. This still feels like a film that is trying to be relevant, albeit years too too late. It’s a sort of forced relevance that is given a cherry on top of its cheap and nasty cake when Nick (Mitchell) makes a joke about Brexit.
Make no mistakes, this film is not as smart as it thinks it is.
Greed is almost preachy in its attempts to present itself as a morality tale. Winterbottom gives very little credit to the audience and uses one character to explicitly illustrate the connection between the poverty of those making the clothes and the great wealth of those selling them. However, this attempt at delivering a moral message – just like the film’s characters Lily and Fabian feeding refugees and then taking them back to the food to get a better publicity shot – is tokenism. Winterbottom pats himself on the back for presenting a serious message through his ‘funny’ film. There is a real smugness at Greed’s heart – the Syrian refugees in the film are real refugees, a fact that the promotion around this film is very proud of, yet they are not credited, and in a day-and-age where more and more celebrities are being outed for not paying their taxes, the plethora of British TV and film stars in this ensemble cast leave less of a great impression and more of a dirty thought; how many of these people actually pay their taxes?
Preachy and obvious but lacking in any real commitment to untangle issues and present ideas of a fairer world, Greed is unfortunately the opposite of what Coogan described Winterbottom’s work as: a shallow puddle blatantly missed.
Nick (Mitchell) perfectly summed up the whole spectacle when he suggested his jokes weren’t funny. They weren’t, and neither is Greed.