Greed, 2020, 1 ½ stars

Greed  is an unpleasant misfire

Greed stars Steve Coogan (center), with Isla Fisher (left) and Asa Butterfield (right). (image copyright Sony Pictures / Film4 / Revolution Films)

Exclusive to MeierMovies, March 7, 2020

Writer-director Michael Winterbottom and actor Steve Coogan have collaborated several times, most famously in the enjoyable Trip films and TV series. But there is little joy in their other projects, either 2013’s The Look of Love or their latest misfire, Greed. They should stick to tripping.

In The Look of Love, Coogan played Paul Raymond, a real-life property developer and porn peddler. In Greed, Coogan again plays a billionaire (Sir Richard McCreadie), this time only inspired by a real person (retail-fashion mogul Philip Green). And though Sir Richard’s (and Green’s) profession isn’t as inherently sleazy as Raymond’s, Richard is even more unlikeable – to the point of annoyance.

Labeled “Sir Greedy,” “Sir Shifty” and “the unacceptable face of capitalism,” Richard “wasn’t a businessman; he was a parasite,” a former employee says. And Coogan – one of the industry’s most underrated actors – does mostly what’s asked of him in bringing this sleazebag to life. The problem is Winterbottom asks the wrong things.

To lampoon vulgar, selfish billionaires by simply showing us 104 minutes of vulgar, selfish billionaires is unimaginative, misguided and needlessly unpleasant. We get it: Richard is a sociopathic narcissist responsible for all sorts of Third World worst practices, specifically the mistreatment of female sweatshop workers. He’s a nasty fellow. But, in this case, the film becomes nasty too. That’s mostly because it tries, at least for its first hour, to be a dark comedy – an unfunny and obscenity-riddled one, at that – before pivoting awkwardly to social drama. Or maybe it was a drama all along and its odiousness was intentional. Frankly – and despite competent performances by David Mitchell as Richard’s reluctant biographer and Isla Fisher as his ex-wife – I don’t care.

Saying so might make me sound the sociopath, considering the film has something important to say about economic inequality and unbridled capitalism. It even has a clever setup in the form of Richard preparing for his 60th birthday extravaganza on the Greek island of Mykonos with family, friends and special guests. (Keep your eyes open for some interesting cameos.) That premise should have allowed for an interesting perspective on the character’s life, but, thanks to Winterbottom’s scattershot script and newbie Liam Heath’s frenzied editing, we’re instead subjected to flashbacks ad nauseam, with a style and pacing reminiscent of Adam McKay on crack. There’s even a subplot involving a reality-television show, thrown in among the split screens, wipe shots and one particularly off-putting use of CGI. It all adds up to far less than the sum of its parts, which is all the more disappointing considering the level of talent.

Buried deep within Greed is a hint of an Aesop fable, a whisper of satirical whimsy. But the director – eager to add drama, social and political lessons, an overabundance of expository details, documentary flourishes and even elements of Greek tragedy – gets badly lost on the way to the message. He gets greedy.

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