★★★½ - STUFF
- Steve Coogan shines in Michael Winterbottom's sometimes savage satire -
On an idyllic island in a Greek archipelago, there resides a particularly bedraggled and moth-eaten lion.
The lion wasn't born near these coral white and azure blue shores. He has been brought here, in an act of narcissistic self-worship that only hints at the depths of the man's inherent ridiculousness, by British high-street mogul Sir Richard McCreadie, who has decided to celebrate his 60th birthday on this island and is determined to have a Gladiator-themed knees-up to mark the occasion.
You hardly need to be familiar with the term "Chekhov's gun" to know that any story that begins with a lion – even one as docile and disinterested as this one – is probably not going to end well for the biggest ego on the stage. That is surely one of the rules of drama and Greed director Michael Winterbottom knows exactly how to play to our expectations to maximum effect.
Winterbottom has directed very nearly a film a year for the last three decades, in pretty much every style and genre you could name. He has his name on everything from award-winning docu-dramas on the lives of refugees, to perennial audience-favourite The Trip and its sequels.
Greed, somehow, takes a pinch of both to set out McCreadie's tale. As played by Trip regular Steve Coogan, the tycoon is a preening, vainglorious, unstable and monumentally entitled buffoon of a man, determined to rescue a public reputation shredded by an inquiry into his tax avoidance by hosting a party stuffed with celebrity – “a million for Elton? How much for Tom Jones? – and glamour.
Orbiting McCreadie are ex-wife and tax-haven provider Samantha, played by Isla Fisher, and David Mitchell as a toadying journalist who has been commissioned to write a flattering biography, but who is becoming disillusioned by the day as he visits the Sri Lankan sweat shops that provide McCreadie's stock. But the best of the lot might be Shirley Henderson, burning everything around her as McCreadie's ferocious Scottish mum.
Down here in New Zealand, we might wonder if the target of Winterbottom's satire is actually the current President of the USA, with his orange spray tan and toilet-duck teeth. And, maybe there is a deliberate whiff of that racist, visible in McCreadie's dismay at the refugee families sheltering on "his" beach.
But Winterbottom's intended target is actually Sir Philip Green, the British owner of Top Shop. Green, like the fictional McCreadie, has a documented history of pulling every trick in the book to avoid paying tax, all while big-noting his generosity to a few select charities. Green is also fond of a lavish and very public party, preferably with a few acquiescent celebs to keep the paparazzi happy.
Go and see Greed for Coogan's chameleonic work at its heart. He truly is worth the price of your ticket.
But, too often, when I hoped the film was about to descend into the bloody anarchy the subject matter could have accommodated, Greed pulls back and contents itself with being merely witty and occasionally illuminating, when real savagery and fury might have been justified and more engaging.
- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF
GREED is now playing at Light House Cinema!