At one point, Michael Winterbottom was perhaps the most irreducible major movie director working. Despite the fact that the guy’s output was regular as clockwork—at least one production a year, in addition to TV work—the range in style and genre was impressive, from serious literary adaptations to pot-boilers to art house porn, and with no appreciable drop-off in quality. Since the dawn of the millennium, however, his work has congealed into a mass of capable middle-brow entertainment whose main claim to iconoclasm is a kind of practiced cynicism. One of the reasons for this verdict is that, since 2002’s 24 Hour Party People, the actor he’s used the most is Steve Coogan, the king of British self-abasement. Coogan stars as the grotesquely narcissistic fast fashion billionaire Sir Richard McCreadie in the unsubtly titled Greed, which I predict will be deemed Winterbottom’s most characteristic work when he’s taught in film school a century from now; which isn’t to say it’s a great film, only that it does the job it sets out to in a way that Winterbottom has perfected with his popular Trip to… series starring Coogan and comedian Rob Brydon.
McCreadie is essentially an exaggerated version of the pompous jerk that Coogan plays—as himself, mind you—in the Trip movies and TV show. Since fast-fashion as a concept is more about business savvy than fashion sense, McCreadie has reached the summit through mercenary methods that are beyond questionable, and the movie’s sendup of British hypocrisy when it comes to rich celebrities is highlighted by the fact that while McCreadie has been knighted for his service to UK business interests he’s being investigated for fraud and other white collar crimes. Meanwhile, he grudgingly enjoys his wealth by throwing Roman Empire-themed birthday parties for himself and persecuting staff and contractors with the glee of someone whose self-hatred is presented as a form of recreation. He is so beyond redemption that he attempts to fire a lion for not doing exactly what it was rented for. When Syrian refugees inadvertently wash up on the shore of his birthday bash he insists they did so on purpose to spoil his fun.
There’s a lot here that is funny, and Coogan has become so adept in his portrayal of base assholes that the viewer’s resentment of his character is both assured and painless, and as a result the movie as a whole has no purchase as a satire. Much of the stuff related to unethical business practices and the exploitation of practically everyone in the retail industry is well-researched and would be blisteringly relevant if this were a documentary. As it is, it feels wasted in the service of destroying a character who’s earned our derision as soon as he appears on screen.
Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Chanter Hibiya (050-6868-5001).
Greed home page in Japanese
photo (c) 2019 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. and Channel Four Television Corporation