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Satire is a genre that, when handled properly, entertains as well as it enlightens. The only problem is there’s a very thin line that satire must walk between the believable and the exaggerated, as one false move can sink the entire point of a film like writer/director Michael Winterbottom’s Greed.
With its sights set firmly on sending up the world of the rich and privileged, that balance makes all the difference when presenting a movie such as this to audiences at large. Rest assured, with Michael Winterbottom’s talents on full display, and armed with frequent collaborator Steve Coogan, Greed, without lack of better words, is quite good.
As the preparations for his 60th birthday blowout are underway, clothing retail magnate Sir Richard “Greedy” McCreadie (Coogan) is facing a bit of a backlash after a public inquiry leaves his image tarnished. Through the efforts of a biographer hired to tell his life’s story (David Mitchell), we’re introduced to McCreadie’s past and present woes, which describe how he’s gotten to the point he’s currently at in life.
With an ex-wife he’s still friendly with (Isla Fisher) and a dysfunctional family (Sophie Cookson, Asa Butterfield) craving attention he’s not keen to give, Sir Richard is really hoping his birthday party will solve all of his personal problems. Of course, that’s easier said than done.
Greed’s tone dances between comedy and drama, and does so with affecting precision.
What’s pretty spectacular about Greed is that somehow a movie that tackles several socially relevant topics, like economic inequality, the refugee crisis and reality TV culture, manages to keep each theme in check. Even better, the film manages to stay on the beam when it comes to making its audience laugh and think in equal measure.
Michael Winterbottom’s scripting and direction, with additional work from writer Sean Gray, tell a tale of a man in crisis with Sir Richard’s story. Coming from simpler beginnings and growing into the monolith of business that we see him represent in the current day, you can sympathize with the man while still hoping he gets his just desserts. At the same time, special attention is paid to both the refugees that seem to derail McCreadie's big soiree, as well as the employees and business partners he's wronged throughout his life, showing the full picture of the man's life up to this point.
The world around Sir Richard changes as time ticks down to the big party, with subtle shifts in Greed’s characters taking place to enrich the drama and the comedy already in place. For those expecting a fast paced laugh riot that zips by like the works of Armando Iannucci, you might be a bit disappointed by this movie’s more deliberately paced exercise. However, for moviegoers who are ready for a patient, evenhanded film that still manages to get in some proper jabs, Greed definitely delivers.
The cast of Greed, especially Steve Coogan and David Mitchell, help nail the tonal shifts the film takes.
As cheeky as he is vicious, both Steve Coogan’s older incarnation of Sir Richard McCreadie, and the younger version of his character played by Jamie Blackley, portray the sort of protagonist that Greed ultimately needs. The judgement of what type of person he truly is totally depends on the audience’s perception of his life story, which only helps sell the movie’s ultimate point effectively across its tonal divide.
Part of that is in the way David Mitchell’s journalist/biographer character Nick looks into the life of Sir Richard, and how he interacts with those he’s closest to. Through the impartial lens that all good reporters possess, we see the unvarnished truth of McCreadie’s life, and we aren’t led in one direction or the other by coercion.
Even the relationship of the McCreadie family at large manages to help inform Greed’s viewers of where they stand on the film’s lead. As there are no extended dramatics pertaining to how Isla Fisher’s Samantha, Sophie Cookson’s Lily and Asa Butterfield’s Finn interact with the patriarch of the family, we get to see believable tension and effective humor.
You’re going to be pretty angry after you’ve seen Greed, and that’s exactly the point.
The humor of Greed is so dry, it lets the audience laugh when they need to, but still keeps everyone’s attention sharp and focused on the matter at hand. For subject matter such as that which is explored by this particular picture, it’s increasingly important to have that sort of focus, as this film is a seering, yet empathetic odyssey of capitalist satire.
Every piece of this film amounts to a total picture that will anger people on either side of the divide, albeit for different reasons. Which means that Greed has done its job, and then some, as inferior films that try to attack a similar message have been known to either go heavy handed with their viewpoint, or not heavy enough in some cases.
Make no mistake, Greed most definitely has something to say about the state of the world, and you won’t misinterpret that message for a moment. The only real difference is whether or not you agree with what Michael Winterbottom has to say. Even if you happen to disagree with its extremely relevant core message, you have to admit that Greed is an ambitious skewering of the ills of modern society that doesn’t forget to tell the very real story it’s sending up.