From The Killer Inside Me to the Trip films to 24 Hour Party People to the recent The Wedding Guest, Michael Winterbottom has always been one of the most versatile directors, and with Greed he attempts to bring a variety of his styles together in what is only a semi-successful mix. Taking aim at the sleazy practices and dreadful egotism of the super-rich, it works best when it’s knocking its characters about with wordy jokes, but its attempts at emotion fall flat, as do its ambitions to tell a more ‘serious’ global tale.
Leading the charge is regular Winterbottom collaborator Steve Coogan, who here plays Richard Macreadie, a barely fictionalised version of high street fashion mogul Philip Green. Though we get a lot more story through flashbacks, Greed centres on Macreadie throwing a massive blowout party on Mykonos for his 60th birthday to restore his damaged reputation after a series of legal rows and store closures. Tagging along are his ex-wife and younger son (Isla Fisher and Asa Butterfield), as well as an ineffectual journalist (David Mitchell) tasked with authoring Macreadie’s life story. Though there is a lot of funny stuff here – a hunt for celebrity guests and Tim Key as an apoplectic contractor in particular – the story is very scattered.
There are a ton of subplots, none of which are as engaging as just spending time in Macreadie’s insidious company. Coogan – all decked out with an awful tan and blindingly whitened teeth – is clearly having an absolute blast playing a venal, vacuous shit, while Fisher and Butterfield get surprisingly rich roles as almost equally terrible people. Mitchell brings reliable laughs too, as do a litany of hilarious celebrity cameos. Winterbottom takes swipes at all manner of public figures, and though it can sometimes feel a bit like repeating the same joke, it is generally properly funny.
There are gaps in the laughs, though, and this is when Greed starts crumbling. A side story about the plight of Sri Lankan workers simply doesn’t work in the context of the rest of the film and borders on offensive given how obviously it’s just tacked on for point scoring without giving its characters any personality. Given that the main emotional climax hinges on this story, it’s a major problem. When Greed is funny and angry, Greed is good, but when it tries to elevate itself above that station, it comes crashing down to earth swiftly.