Michael Winterbottom’s unfortunately unfocussed polemic takes a swipe at the lifestyles of the rich and the shameless, or maybe at the grotesque exploitation underpinning the ‘fast fashion’ industry or perhaps at the financial chicanery that underwrites those big blockbuster boardroom deals you read about in the Metro while on your commute or even the humanitarian crisis of Syrian refugees. It’s certainly quite angry indeed, and wants you to be incensed too – it’s just not sure what it wants you to concentrate your ire on, so it ends up being a sort of messy buffet of milquetoast outrage and beard-stroking tuts.
Shot in a pseudo-mockumentary style, we follow ‘self-made’ British billionaire Sir Phillip Green Sir Richard McReadie as he attempts to recover his crumbling retail empire’s reputation following some financial scandals and an ill-tempered public enquiry. To restore his reputation for success in excess, he commissions a lavishly extravagant Roman Empire-themed bacchanalia on the Greek island of Mykonos.
The uncertain focus of what point the film wants to make (although, in reality, all of its potential targets are important, worthy of attention and further scrutiny) is matched in its odd tonal shift and it’s not long before you start to wonder if any of the cast agree on what kind of film they’re in. Coogan sporadically shines as the ruthless, solid gold leaf self-made market trader made good but seems as confounded by the script as the audience might be, undercutting his normally peerless ability to bring out the pathos and inner weakness of his bluff and boastful characters but it’s in the casting of David Mitchell that the film stumbles the most. His slightly baffled journalist and biographer to McReadie who kind of bumbles his way through the film in a hapless, reactionary manner is at odds with everything and everyone else’s slightly over the top tone and although I adore him as a comedian and wit, he ended up being one of the most frustrating parts of the movie. Isla Fisher, Asa Butterfield and most of the rest of the cast are wasted in underdeveloped supporting roles and even notional audience surrogate Shanina Shaik gets fairly short shrift. Veering wildly from slapstick to satire to social commentary to moments of shocking violence and tragedy, it’s so aware of its own confusing messaging that it feels the need to hammer home its moral in a PowerPoint presentation inserted between the end of the movie and the closing credits.
It’s a shame, too, because all of the ingredients are here for a scorching satirical spin on King Lear as McReadie’s offspring vie for the throne as Sir Richard’s power wanes which could have exposed all of the secrets, lies and exploitation which built the empire but it’s crammed in to too small a runtime; a feature film which should have been a prestige mini-series. Nowhere near funny enough to be a comedy, but not serious or sharp enough to be a drama, “Greed” ends up biting off way more than it can chew.