‘Unremarkable but driven man rises to become one of world’s richest assholes thanks to unwavering ruthlessness’ is a story we’ve seen many times in cinema. Greed is a uniquely British entry to the genre, however, a caustic satire of the nouveau riche centring around a rapacious high street fashion mogul.
Steve Coogan plays Sir Richard “Greedy” McCreadie, a thinly-veiled stand-in for Topshop CEO Philip Green. It’s the eve of McCreadie’s 60th birthday in Mykonos and preparations are underway for a party themed around Gladiator (the billionaire’s favourite movie), but the presence of a group of Syrian refugees on an adjacent beach threatens to thoroughly ruin the vibes at his opulent do.
Greed sees Coogan reunite with The Trip director Michael Winterbottom, who has penned a merciless script that skewers high street brands’ exploitation of cheap foreign labour and ridicules the kind of tasteless, classless billionaires found bobbing gently on their yachts somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea, Ralph Lauren shorts stretched over their tanned-leather skin.
Intercut with the planning of the party, we witness McCreadie’s rise from selling discount dresses in a single store to dominating the high street, and all the little details and idiosyncrasies of the mogul’s milieu are completely on point. He opens debt-bound clothing stores with names like ‘Impresse’ and ‘Xcellent’. His wife Samantha (Isla Fisher) peruses celebrity musicians for the guest-list like carpets in a brochure. His entourage slap money around like taramosalata, perched on white linen deck chairs which scream ‘Ibiza bottle service’.
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Admittedly, it’s shooting steamed sea bass in a barrel, and the scenes of McCreadie hustling through the ’80s and ’90s feel a little cookie cutter and The Wolf of Wall Street-lite. There’s the obligatory ‘this is how he did it’ explainer montage complete with Ocean’s Eleven-esque music, breaking down McCreadie’s strategy of buying up companies with their own money and evading taxes using Monaco accounts. A biographer (David Mitchell) and event planner (Dinita Gohil) grow tired of McCreadie’s excesses and plot to escape his orbit, but you don’t feel hugely invested in them. However, Greed is tremendous fun, and Coogan and Fisher have some wonderful lines, questioning Shakira’s $3 million price tag (“she doesn’t even wear shoes!”) and declaring, “I’m not a gynaecologist, but I know a cunt when I see one.”
Far and away the most impressive element of the film is its use of celebrities, who were seemingly queuing up to poke fun at themselves. You wouldn’t expect people to be so open about the fact that they like to hobnob with A-listers, but they appear in the film in droves. Coldplay are lined up to play the billionaire’s party, with Chris Martin sending in a personal video message. Alexa Chung poses for a selfie with the billionaire and does the obligatory cheek-kissing. Stephen Fry actually appears in the party scene as himself, surveying the dancefloor with a mixture of boredom, despair and self-loathing. Greed has its own scripted reality show, ‘The Young, the Rich and the Beautiful’, which centres around McCreadie’s daughter and a love interest played by Made in Chelsea’s Ollie Locke. At one point, the pair trade romcom clichés while a refugee crisis unfolds on the beach.
Greed is very much pitched toward comedy, and yet ends up slightly patronising. By the close, it’s a lecture, and prioritises politics over mood and tone. Fair enough, maybe, if you go to the cinema for a lesson. But is that what most will want? Luckily, the film is consistently entertaining and frequently hilarious. An effective portrait of a very specific and odious kind of person during a time of capitalism run rampant.
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Steve Coogan, David Mitchell, Isla Fisher
Release date: 21 February 2020