By George Kozera for Mr. Will Wong
I have been a fan of the prolific British Director Michael Winterbottom, since I saw his audacious big screen debut, Butterfly Kiss, at a TIFF screening in the 90s. Since then, not only did he direct Angelina Jolie in her Oscar-nominated role in A Mighty Heart, he is responsible for one of Cinema’s benchmark movies about the music industry with 24 Hour Party People and had Dev Patel effectively play against-type in The Wedding Guest. Winterbottom movies can be provocative and politically and socially charged or whimsical and very witty. With his latest, GREED, he hits all the buttons. It is a blistering, very dark comedy and a scathing indictment of corporate avarice. Alongside jabs towards scripted Reality TV Shows and political grandstanding, Winterbottom also touches, with great empathy and insight, on the plight of Syrian refugees and sweatshop workers in countries like Sri Lanka. This movie had me howl with laughter and seethe with anger.
Sir Richard McCreadie (played by frequent collaborator Steve Coogan with ferocity and the whitest, biggest teeth ever to be on screen) is a British fashion-based billionaire about to celebrate his 60th birthday with a glitzy bash in Mykonos. Obsessed with the Movie Gladiator, a plywood replica of the Coliseum is being built for the party by migrant Eastern Europeans and a lion (named Clarence) is being trained for his arena debut. Documenting all this is McCreadie’s official Biographer, and our baffled moral compass, Nick Morris (cleverly portrayed by David Mitchell) and through a series of many flashbacks and jumping timelines we see how young Richard became the billionaire business mogul (despite a long history of bankruptcies and tax dodges). The biographical storylines are equally repulsive and fascinating and cruelly funny (when trying to decide which performer to hire for his party, Sir Richard is stunned to find out that Robbie Williams charges the same fee as Elton John and is dissuaded from hiring Diana Ross because he would have to pay for her entire family’s vacation in Greece). We also learn that McCreadie has absolutely no interest in fashion; like Trump, it’s all about the art of the deal. And winning. At all costs.
As Sir Richard’s Ex-Wife, Isla Fisher steals every scene she is in with a slew of devastatingly-funny observations. Not only does she gleefully tell her Ex that Kylie Jenner is richer than he, when justifying her 1.2 billion pounds royalty cheque while lounging on her yacht, she tells Nick, “No one on any of these boats pay taxes. And that’s just the rules. I’m just following the rules.” Veteran British thespian, Shirley Henderson, as Sir Richard’s Irish brogued mother is hypnotically scintillating. As young Richard, Jamie Blackley is a talent and name to watch for in the future. Asa Butterfield as Finn, the youngest son who hates his dad with passion and fury, gives a powerhouse performance in what really is a glorified cameo role.
GREED may potentially alienate viewers as nearly every major character is vile and corrupt; even the “good guys” perform questionable acts. That said, despite the blackness of the Comedy, the observations are keen and insightful and I loved the many cameos from well-known celebrities .It’s the best thing Michael Winterbottom has unleashed in a long time.
Mongrel Media release GREED Friday, March 6, 2020.