Greed is a film of contrasts. 24 Hour Party People director’s exploration of cut-throat capitalism and exploitation stars Steve Coogan as Richard McCreadie a caricature of Phillip Green, the businessman who drove high street giant BHS into the ground, following his rise to power and attempts to deflect criticism by hosting a star-studded 60th birthday bash.
Those contrasts are immediately apparent. McCreadie’s Roman themed birthday party, an event involving a mockup colosseum, wild animals and lackeys in togas, is played off against a background of refugees camping out on a beach, harassed employees struggling to make ends meet and the impotence of politicians and journalists trying to hold the powerful to account.
All well and good, but there are other contrasts which the director probably didn’t intend. The excellent production values in most scenes clash horribly with certain poorly executed shots. An early scene in which a protester rushes on screen and hurls a pie at McCreadie before being manhandled out of the room is reminiscent of a high school play, the struggle between protester and security guard framed horribly within a boxy, centred shot and acted like an overenthusiastic interpretive dance.
The cast too is chalk and cheese. Coogan does a fine job as villainous yet charismatic McCreadie. Indeed, most of the film’s humour seems to come from the minutiae of his performance; his mannerisms and careless phrases, his cheeky chappy approach to destroying lives to buy a new yacht.
But much like former BHS shop workers, several cast members are redundant. David Mitchell is, well, fine as McCreadie’s guilt ridden biographer Nick, but Tim Key’s appearance adds precisely nothing. His character, whose role is so vague and unnecessary, I’m struggling to describe exactly what he is (an architect? A party planner?) doesn’t add a smidgen of value to the film. Why hire a genuinely funny guy like Key and write a script without a single joke? Surely not just to shoehorn in another big name? Pfft.
54-year-old, Shirley Henderson is another asset poorly used. Her attempt to play a decrepit old woman (she does not pass, and her pantomime-esque hobbling is laughable for all the wrong reasons) had me cringing from the start, though she excels in flashbacks, a wonderfully abrasive matriarch pulling the strings for her entitled son.
While Greed relies more on furious putdowns and scathing insults than real humour, Coogan carries the film, injecting an element of lovable rogue into a fundamentally despicable character. His backstory is well-told, his time as arrogant schoolboy at Eton to overconfident huckster in the clothing markets unfolds organically and entertainingly. Jamie Blackley does a good job in the role of young McCreadie.
The exploration of factory conditions and profiteering shines a light on an important modern issue and the film should get credit for that. But the film utterly falls apart in its closing stages. A range of plot threads including disenchantment of McCreadie’s children, a refugee scandal and old grudges culminate in a moment of high melodrama which largely fails to land and gives McCreadie more sympathy than he deserves.
All in, I’m not sure what this film was supposed to be. If it wanted to really explore capitalist issues and sweatshops, it ought to have taken a less flippant tone. If it was an effort at satirising modern corporate culture, some jokes might have been appreciated. Only Coogan gives this largely forgettable piece any redeeming qualities. Frankly, I’d rather go and watch some old Alan Partridge.