As a celebrity guest at his lavish 60th birthday party eulogises, Sir Richard McCreadie (Steve Coogan) is “a self-made man who worships his creator.” Not that he appreciates either the irony or the accuracy in the statement, lapping it up with copious false modesty. He is, after all, only genuinely interested in two things in his life – himself and making money.
“Greedy” McCreadie has made a name for himself in retail fashion for his cut-throat deals that, for some unaccountable reason, nobody can resist. He buys up high street chains, most of which go bust with monotonous regularity but, somehow, he always seems to make more than enough to fund his own opulent lifestyle. And, if he sounds familiar, that’s because he is. Both Coogan and writer/director Michael Winterbottom have made no effort to disguise that their Malcolm Tucker of fashion retail is based on Sir Philip Green, although his orange face and dazzling tombstone teeth may bring others to mind as well.
Anybody who had trouble with the Little Women timeline, beware! Greed’s starting point is the run-up to McCreadie’s birthday celebrations, but it moves around from his youth and early career to his appearance in front of a Government select committee, chaired by a disapproving Miles Jupp. In truth, it’s easy enough to follow those shifts in time, and the backstory it provides is essential to the character and the issues Winterbottom has in his satirical sights. And there are many. Factory workers’ pay and conditions, the refugee crisis, asset stripping, tax havens, the list goes on, all linked together by one man who makes his fortune by exploiting the lot of them for all they’re worth. But such a long list of targets takes the edge off the satire, diluting the impact so that when the stats to enlighten us appear at the end of the film, there’s so many that they almost become a blur.
That’s not to say there aren’t some deeply wince making moments. The scenes involving the refugees on the Greek beach who spoil the view and could ruin the entire birthday party are especially agonising. You laugh, you feel guilty for laughing and that’s the point. It’s not the first or the last time but, under the weight of its political messages, Greed runs out of steam. The events of the party have been flagged up a touch too clearly from the start, the laughs diminish and it all fizzles out. Not even the comic performances of Shirley Henderson as McCreadie’s formidable mother and Sophie Cookson as his wannabe (not very good) actress daughter, as well as Coogan sinking those terrifying dentures into his role with relish, can rescue it from that.
Greed is a near-miss. One that wears its political heart on its sleeve, which makes you laugh and cringe in equal measure and which hits most of its targets most of the time. But it tries to do too much and, when the final third comes along, the energy has been sucked away and the bubble has, unspectacularly, burst.
Greed is released on Friday, 21 February.