Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | February 27th, 2020
Greed (Michael Winterbottom, 2019) 1 out of 4 stars.
Satire works best when suffused with wit, its targets lampooned with joyous buffoonery and sharp wordplay. When the methods are crude and the object of mockery obvious, then whence the delight of discovery? This is part of what makes parody so difficult to employ in criticisms of our nation’s 45th president; Trump’s behavior is already so outrageous that any caricature often pales in comparison to the real deal. Which brings us to Greed, the new film from writer/director Michael Winterbottom (The Wedding Guest), which sadly fails to rise above the barely mediocre in its quest to take down the rich and selfish tycoons of this world. Making matters even worse, the movie ends with an attempted call to action on a series of title cards, presenting what has just transpired as a cautionary tale. It sure is, but not in the way Winterbottom intends. If the ending cards had read “do not make movies like this,” I would be on board.
Steve Coogan (Philomena) stars as Sir Richard McCreadie, owner of a large department-store chain and generally awful human being. On the eve of his 60th birthday party, to be held on the Greek island of Mykonos, he finds a multiplicity of ways to denigrate and humiliate everyone around him, many of whom pay it downwards in the hierarchy, nastiness breeding further nastiness. With preternaturally (fake) white teeth, McCreadie shines a sour (fake) smile on those around him, all the while taking all he can from all who can’t. As an added bonus, he wants a hapless group of Syrian refugees living on the beach below the pending celebration to leave. Misery may love company, but greed prefers to go it alone.
The story is structured as a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards, whereby we learn all we never needed to know about our protagonist, who seems to have always been drawn in broad, one-dimensional brushstrokes. If only there were some hint as to the roots of McCreadie’s success – some talent that explained his rise – then at least these scenes would hold interest as a procedural on corporate raping and pillaging. Instead, Coogan, in an unfortunate, overly mannered performance, barks and brays his way through the movie with no clear sense of purpose beyond the brazen. As much as I have enjoyed the actor in other work, including many films by this same director (like the marvelous The Trip), here he is just loud. And so is Greed. Turn down the volume and finesse the details, and there night be something.
The rest of the cast does not fare much better, though Dinita Gohil shines as one of McReadie’s many put-upon assistants. The same cannot be said for poor David Mitchell, out of his acting depth as a writer working on McReadie’s biography. It seems as if almost everyone was directed to traffic in superficiality, thereby rendering toothless justifiable criticisms of our planet’s uber-rich. In its craving for blood, the film’s overly evident gluttony swallows every bit of nuance that would better serve the premise. Greed is not good, by far.