What are we going to do about the rich? That’s the underlying question in Michael Winterbottom’s comedy/drama, which takes inspiration from the lavish 60th birthday party thrown on Greek island Mykonos by disgraced tycoon Sir Phillip Green. The spectre of Green, who seems to have destroyed respected businesses and raided pension funds with impunity, hangs over most British towns and cities in the form of empty shops; the fictional Greedy McReadie (Steve Coogan) and his rise to fame clearly derive some inspiration from Green, but the satirical swipes here could apply to any or most of the ten richest men in the world, all of whom doubled their wealth in the disaster capitalism bun-fight of the pandemic. Their collective inability to fill out an honest tax return speaks volumes.
It’s Green’s mis-handling of the Arcadia empire that provides the backstory here, but the real action follows the preparation for a grotesque party and the bacchanalian scene itself; if you bring on a cocaine-fuelled lion in the first act, as the old theatrical adage goes, you know it’s going to get free and maul someone in the final act. So we know that some kind of justice is coming for Greedy McReadie, but not before we’ve examined whether he’s seasoned for his passage. We meet his biographer (David Mitchell) his ex-wife (Isla Fisher), his alienated son (Asa Butterfield) and all manner of hangers on. When celebrities pull out of the do, concerned by McReadie’s recent public testimony in front of a public inquiry into his shady business practices, they’re replaced by look-alikes; nevertheless, Stephen Fry, Colin Firth, Keira Knightley, Ben Stiller and Chris Martin are amongst the real life cameos, making fun of the showbiz world’s symbiotic relationship with obscene wealth.
Greed didn’t make much impression on the box-office during a brief 2019 release, but it’s nice to see such a spiky, angry film turn up in Netflix’s top ten movies this week. Coogan and Winterbottom clearly have justified anger in their scabrous satire, and if your blood-pressure can take it, the description of how McReadie asset-strips companies for his own benefit is the uncomfortable opposite of the admiring cheeky-chappie narrative of say The Wolf of Wall Street. But Greed doesn’t lack in entertainment value; one of the best jokes sees McReadie and his wife listening to James Blunt’s You’re Beautiful on a balcony, only for the camera to pull back to reveal the singer serenading them from below, at a cost, according to McReadie of only £70k.
Making money is no crime; cheating others to do it is. Films like Greed suggest that there might be a point of critical mass where the world might turn against those who exploit the system and then destroy it to stop others doing the same. This week, my mother’s bank closed a branch that’s been part of the community for as long as I’ve been alive; she can’t access her accounts online, and hours of calling the bank’s supposed helplines revealed no sign of human life. The man responsible is Sir Richard Branson, who bought the bank in 2018 and closed it almost immediately; putting on the tv, we managed to catch his attempt to convince us he’s actually a heroic spaceman. That’s the kind of achievement these men want us to remember them for; Greed reminds us why they cannot walk safety down the streets that they’ve decimated for their own personal gain. If the rich don’t feel they have to follow the rules, we’d be mugs not to follow their example; in 2022, greed is contaigous.