As befits a film about a boorish magnate whose style is predicated on impatience, writer-director Michael Winterbottom’s Greed moves fast. Not content to tell just the story of its fictitious Sir Richard McCreadie (Steve Coogan), an obvious stand-in for Topshop’s Philip Green, Winterbottom lampoons the world that creates and sustains such figures too. This means taking trips back to British private school, jumping to a day in court, and learning all about the international garment industry. Fortunately for the film—if not its targets—Winterbottom remains light on his feet throughout.
In the days leading up to his 60th birthday, McCreadie has assembled everyone in his life on Mykonos to throw a party in his honour. (This list includes paid celebrity attendees.) His wife, his ex-wife (Isla Fisher), his children (including Asa Butterfield), and his various employees are all on hand. There’s also a lion (symbolism alert!) and a biographer, played with awkward aplomb by David Mitchell, who pose their own specific dangers. What we’re meant to see is both the machinations of party planning in real-time (including the eviction of refugees from a nearby public beach) and the supposed work McCreadie has put into becoming a so-called mega success. I include those qualifiers because what Winterbottom actually wants to show us in Greed is the absolute falsity of everything assembled around these characters—from Coogan’s bleached teeth on out. In that, he and his collaborators get so many of the details and performances exactly right; we recognize these rich people and we don’t like them.
Like last year’s The Laundromat from the similarly prolific Steven Soderbergh, Winterbottom’s Greed is perhaps too diffuse for its own good, taking shots at a few too many targets. But it’s also instructive and angry in a way that that film is not. As he’s shown over the years, Winterbottom (along with Coogan) also knows how to be funny, even if it’s not of the laugh-out-loud variety. That he’s chosen more significant aims here is to be lauded; now if only his film could bring about actual change—ah, but there I go again asking for too much.