Michael Winterbottom brings together a who’s who of British comic talent for his fast fashion satire Greed. Conceived as a biting commentary on inequality, sweatshop labour and…well, greed, the film lacks fluency and laughs, rarely managing to lands its many upward punches.
High street fashion magnate Sir Richard McCreadie (Steve Coogan) is suffering a slight crisis of confidence. A public enquiry into his questionable business practices has left his reputation in tatters, inspiring him to host a Gladiator-themed 60th birthday party on the Greek island of Mykonos: using the halo-effect of a celebrity guest list to try and repair his public image.
As local labourers toil away to build an impromptu colosseum and Syrian refugees take shelter on the beach, McCreadie’s entourage runs amok. His daughter Lily (Sophie Cookson) is followed around by the crew of a ‘constructed reality’ show, alongside actual Made in Chelsea alumnus Ollie Locke. McCreadie’s biographer Nick (David Mitchell) shambles about awkwardly, delving into the retail king’s backstory and crossing paths with a boastful lion tamer (Asim Chaudhry) and the McCreadie family’s personal party planner, played by Sarah Solemani. The rich cavort and complain as the have-nots suffer what they must, with McCreadie himself rampaging across the screen in a dustcloud of malice and invective.
There are so many different story strands and characters that the film is convoluted, perhaps intentionally. The large cast of comedians and actors creates an embarrassment of riches, like browsing in a retail emporium, eyes twitching from one gem to the next. However, much like the recent Chris Morris satire The Day Shall Come, the real-life events it seeks to send-up are themselves so unpleasant that the jokes arrive with a slightly sour taste.
Coogan gives a passable if two-dimensional, performance as McCreadie; he’s so utterly detestable a figure the script doesn’t allow his character that thin edge of vulnerability which rounds off Coogan’s best characters. Instead, we’re treated to a Malcolm Tucker-esque swear-a-thon, which sparks a few good laughs but also leaves you to dwell uncomfortably on how close the depiction of bullying matches some historical allegations of abuse. Unlike Jesse Armstrong’s Succession, the characters are a little too believably built.
It’s possible to imagine an earlier draft of the script with fewer gags – similar in tone to Abel Ferrara’s Welcome to New York – that simply sets the likes of Sir Philip Green up on a target board and fires away mercilessly. Ultimately, Greed struggles to wrap an earnest morality tale within an oversized caricature. By the end credits, the audience will likely be won over by the film’s moral argument, but by choosing not to engage with important complementary questions – why the draw of fashion is so strong, what it means to have a limited shopping budget which forces you into the arms of a McCreadie – Greed ultimately seems incurious and forgettable.