Steve Coogan shines in Greed's scabrous portrait of corporate excess
An odious British billionaire (Steve Coogan) celebrates his 60th birthday with family and friends on a Greek island in the barbed comedy Greed. Damon Smith reviews
MORE than 30 years after Michael Douglas's anti-hero Gordon Gekko coldly professed that "greed, for lack of a better word, is good", director Michael Winterbottom sharpens claws to scratch out the eyes of modern-day capitalism in a glossy satire of bloated, bullying haves and much-abused have-nots.
Co-written by Sean Gray, Greed is a swingeing work of gallows-humoured fiction – any similarity to a real-life titan of industry is unintentional – that doesn't always draw blood despite a conscience-pricking final act that bombards us with uncomfortable statistics about the exploitation of workers in developing countries.
Steve Coogan chews scenery with a maniacal glint in his eye as the arrogant billionaire who vaunts profits ahead of personal relationships and eventually reaps the acrid fruit he sows under the impossibly blue skies of a sun-baked Greek island.
His bullish, larger-than-life performance is lip-smacking entertainment and a stark counterpoint to David Mitchell's dry, understated portrayal of a bumbling biographer, who is unknowingly in the right place at the right time to witness his subject's downfall.
Sir Richard McCreadie (Coogan) is variously described as "the king of the high street" and "the unacceptable face of capitalism" – a sharp-suited wheeler dealer who exploited cheap labour in 1980s Sri Lanka to lay the foundations of a sprawling fashion empire.
As figurehead of the Monda retail chain, he faces prickly questions about ethical business practices at a parliamentary select committee hearing.
His disastrous performance in the full glare of TV cameras inflicts damage to the brand.
To repair his tattered reputation, Sir Richard hires party planner Melanie (Sarah Solemani) to orchestrate a lavish 60th birthday bash on the island of Mykonos themed around Oscar-winning film Gladiator.
Celebrity guests including Angelina Jolie will wear togas to a carefully choreographed fight with a real lion, staged inside a hastily constructed plywood imitation of the Colosseum.
Sir Richard's tax-dodging, Monaco-based ex-wife Samantha (Isla Fisher), disgruntled son Finn (Asa Butterfield) and viperous mother Margaret (Shirley Henderson) are among friends and family who are flown in for the glittering occasion.
Mild-mannered writer Nick (Mitchell) documents the festivities for an official biography and he observes the tears and tantrums as A-list attendees pull out at the last minute, simmering Oedipal rage boils over and Syrian refugees on a nearby beach spoil the view.
Greed is a scabrous portrait of corporate excess, which scratches the pampered and preened surfaces of intended targets.
The script ricochets between fragmented timelines to chronicle decades of mistreatment as the cast delivers wickedly barbed one-liners with aplomb including Asim Chaudhry as a beleaguered animal trainer.
A blood-stained resolution stumbles into the realms of the absurd just when Winterbottom is preparing to deliver his sermon on collective responsibility and the hypocrisy of celebrity activism.
GREED (15, 104 mins) Comedy/Drama/Romance. Steve Coogan, David Mitchell, Isla Fisher, Asa Butterfield, Shirley Henderson, Sarah Solemani, Asim Chaudhry. Director: Michael Winterbottom.
Released: February 21