If I may paraphrase Gordon Gekko, “Greed” is very, very good.
I’ve been a Steve Coogan fan for several years, particularly in “The Trip” movies he’s made with Rob Brydon (which will conclude with a fourth installment set in Greece, coming out later this year). Coogan’s latest movie, “Greed,” which also takes place in Greece, is a satire about the super-rich — in particular, Sir Richard McCreadie (nickname: “McGreedy”), a billionaire fashion mogul.
For his sixtieth birthday, he’s throwing himself an over-the-top Roman-themed party on a beach on a Greek isle (never mind the ancient civilizations crossover!). As the film begins, the event is still a few days away, but we see preparations for it, including a Colosseum-like structure being built by Bulgarians who don’t understand the Greek foreman, who is constantly berated by McCreadie, who micromanages everything. Inspired by the movie “Gladiator,” McCreadie wants live battles staged for the amusement of the wealthy attendees, including a lion — even though the animal in the Russell Crowe version was a tiger — is kept in a cage at the arena by his trainer.
As soon as I saw the lion, I thought of a line attributed to playwright Anton Chekhov: “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.” The same applies to the king of the forest. If he’s not involved in some sort of mayhem and carnage before the movie ends, what’s he there for? Oh, you’ll find out.
“Greed” also makes a statement about the inequity of jerks like McCreadie getting hyper-rich by manipulating the financial system (well-explained, a la “The Big Short”) while the women who work in sweatshops in India and Bangladesh making his clothes earn a mere pittance. It’s the clash of these two cultures — and McCreadie’s continual fits of arrogance, seen both in the present and in flashbacks — that drive the plot and give writer/director Michael Winterbottom plenty of arrows to shoot at his targets.
As if that’s not enough, “Greed” includes a great laugh-out-loud subplot involving McCreadie’s daughter, star of a reality TV show that’s being filmed simultaneously with the party preparations, in which she and her on-screen boyfriend have to remember lines pre-written by their producer and fake-cry on demand. And there’s more: a group of Syrian refugees living on the Greek beach that McCreadie insists must be cleared so neither he nor his guests have to see anyone from a lower class.
Coogan is excellent as McCreadie, complete with a set of teeth you won’t forget. He’s played obnoxious roles like this before (e.g. Alan Partridge, Tony Wilson), but never better than in this performance. Isla Fisher adds some very funny chemistry as McCreadie’s ex-wife, who remains close to him for tax purposes and maybe some continuing physical attraction, despite his having a new, young trophy wife. By the way, McCreadie was originally going to be played by Fisher’s real-life husband, Sacha Baron Cohen, but he ended up on another project, giving Coogan another opportunity to hit a home run with Winterbottom, who directed him in “The Trip” movies and several others.
If you see McCreadie as a parallel to a certain megalomaniac, powerful, rich, arrogant, unsympathetic putz in the White House, that’s purely coincidental. Winterbottom has even larger things to focus on and, after several truly hilarious scenarios, ends the film with some stinging numbers about the exploited workers at the other end of the income spectrum.
“Greed” will likely end up on my Best Movies Of 2020 list. I give it a 9 out of 10.