Friday, 31 January 2020

Review: Greed

Cert: 15 / 104 mins / Dir. Michael Winterbottom / Trailer

Five days before his 60th birthday, boorish retail magnate Sir Richard McCreadie (Steve Coogan) is overseeing preparations for a lavish party on Mykonos. A coterie of minions and hangers-on surrounds him including his mother (Shirley Henderson*1), current partner (Shanina Shaik), ex-wife Samantha (Isla Fisher), son Finn (Asa Butterfield), PR Manager*2 (Sarah Solemani) and personal assistant Amanda (Dinita Gohil).

Also lurking in the background is Richard's hired biographer Nick (David Mitchell), tasked with chronicling the great man's success story. The problem is that the more people Nick meets, the harder it becomes to write anything nice about his subject...


And what an almighty mess this film is. No, seriously. Greed should, by all accounts, be a story uncovered for the audience by the on-screen author. Instead we just get a mish-mash of everything. He's a writer, so somehow we get talking-head cutaways from a completed mocumentary as well as his own amateurish cam-footage. The film opens on the day of the party before flashing back to five days earlier, then we get more flashbacks and flashbacks-within-flashbacks until it becomes unclear who's telling each segment and what the point of it is. The fast cuts are migraine-inducing, even outside of the stylised montage sequences.

As well as the incoherent editing, we get a number of sketched-in subplots. An Oedipus thread with Finn and the building of a plywood amphitheatre are at least fitting for the storyline, as are the Syrian refugees living on the beach next to Richard's party venue. But the constructed-reality show being filmed on the island featuring McCreadie's daughter Lily (Sophie Cookson), other than bumping into the refugee story, feels like it's been dropped in from another movie. When there's A Message to convey, Greed is very on the nose. It also keeps forgetting there's a message.

The film either employs improvised dialogue shot on a first take to increase spontaneity, or Michael Winterbottom is actively directing his cast to talk over each other with no natural end-point to each scene. It is intolerable that this left the editing room.


The real shame is that there's a fantastic cast here, all of whom have been much better elsewhere. Even Coogan struggles in a role which feels like it was written for Sacha Baron Cohen. His central figure should be an absolute monster of a man. Clearly - CLEARLY - a composite of around 15% Alan Sugar, 85% Philip Green, McCreadie is a character we already know on an instinctive level before the opening titles have even finished. But for all the bull-headed excess and yelling at subordinates, Coogan plays him pretty much as his own Gareth Cheeseman character from the mid-90s, with a little bit of Del Boy swagger and a few cracks of awkwardness mined from Alan Partridge. IE three comedy characters. Two of whom are his own. No drama.

Coogan forgets to be unlikeable or Winterbottom forgets to direct him as such. Quite possibly both. So when the film's climax comes lumbering into view, what should be a shocking, even sobering, moment instead means...
*checks notes* NOTHING. I spent more time wondering where they found the CGI budget than I did empathising with Amanda*3.


Because in its final moments, the film suddenly grows a conscience, lecturing its audience with captioned statistics on global inequality and the fashion industry, as if it's taken anything else seriously in the preceding 100 minutes. While there is certainly a point (indeed A Better Film) to be made, this is cack-handed frowning like that time Russell Brand pretended to be outraged that a cleaner doesn't earn the same money as a CEO, despite the two having completely different jobs and responsibilities*4. The whole thing is painfully wearing.

Is Greed a raucously sharp comedy? Is it a thought-provoking satire? Or is is it just an ADHD mood-board, a prolonged elevator pitch thrown together by a sleep-deprived first year film student, the cinematic equivalent of being yelled at for 100 minutes?

Michael Winterbottom doesn't know, so why the hell should we?

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Nothing good.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Absolutely not.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Babu Frik is in this and so is Sabé.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…
I was going to throw on an extra point for the bit with James Blunt because that was good, and then I decided not to because the rest of the movie isn't good enough to have earned that one, brief high-point.

*1 What the fuck accent is Shirley Henderson meant to be doing in this film, though? Anyone? She's normally great. The characters here say she's Irish, but it sounds like the Belfast suburb of Cardiff. Much like Jude Law's verbal wrangling in that submarine movie, I suspect the accent is either a very specific regional twang that she knows intimately from relatives across the water, or she can't do it at all and has opted for Shop Demonstration Mode. [ BACK ]

*2 This isn't me being rude by the way, if I haven't named a character above it's because those aren't recorded on the film's IMDB or Wiki pages. [ BACK ]

*3 Because with the best will in the world, it's not McCreadie's fault that Amanda's aunt died in a fire at another factory because she was sacked from McCreadie's supplier weeks earlier. A fire in the original factory, if they'd had to cut safety measures because McCreadie was driving down costs elsewhere? McCreadie's fault. Malnutrition or illness from working long underpaid hours at the original factory? McCreadie's fault. The original factory being struck by a meteorite while her aunt was working a shift? Not McCreadie's fault, mate. The fire could have happened anywhere. Remember this is fiction, Winterborrom. You have the absolute power to make these things link up into a coherent narrative. [ BACK ]

*4 Y'know, as if when Russell did his Arthur remake, he got the same salary as a 17yr old who spends the day bringing everyone coffee on-set. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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