As we live through a rather shoddy remake of the 80s now is the time for a film to come along and digs its teeth into the super rich. And Greed may be the film to do it. Armed with some aggressively bleak stats and noble intentions, it sets its sights on the billionaires who have profited from cheap, fast fashion. And yet, as much as you want it to succeed, the film never lands the punches it needs to.
There is a wealth of material out there for Greed to jump off of and this may explain its rather messy structure. It tries to encompass a fictitious potted history of the rise of a billionaire, a broadly cartoonish satire of a once titan of industry turned into a pariah, and the real life experiences of migrants and sweat shop workers. It all feels too much, like a hose spraying wildly out-of-control. Some scenes land better than others but Greed never finds the balance of tone that other, more successful ‘Eat the Rich’ satires have achieved.
At the centre of the film is Steve Coogan’s Sir Richard McCreadie, a not-so-subtle stand-in for a prominent real-life billionaire. As the narrative builds to his lavish 60th birthday party, we meet various individuals in his orbit; the ex-wife, the put-upon staff, the strangely oedipal son, the writer chronicling his life. There are threads for many of these figures, most of which are left unresolved as the film careens to something fitting a climax.
Coogan is clearly having fun here, letting loose and creating a larger-than-life ball of confidence, swagger and assertive bullying. McCreadie is a monster but, as is often the case, the film never digs its teeth in. In 2020 you hope that maybe we would see the full extent of the wickedness that terribly mediocre, overly-confident men can do. Maybe I was waiting for the moment that Greed would lands its punch. It never does. The rest of the cast are a fun mix of actors drawn from British television (Asa Butterfield, David Mitchell, Asim Chaudhry, Tim Key, Jonny Sweet). They all play their parts well and clearly enjoy the swearier moments (there is a hint of The Thick of It here). Isla Fisher and Shirley Henderson bring the gravitas of their time in
Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People, 9 Songs, The Trip) shoots with the same intimacy that has come to define his career, giving the film an immersive quality. But it might be part of the problem. The film is too grounded to be a repugnant cartoon, too broad to be a forensic deconstruction of the problems that exist. At this point the audience that will come out for this film are all mostly aware of the terrible conditions that go into making our clothes. Billionaires are more despised than ever. This film needed to do something more than rely on harrowing statistics. Its noble intentions are not enough to paper over a sub-par satire that feels outstripped by the reality it lives in, as well as by several competitors. Greed, in this instance, is merely fine.