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Greed

***
2019

‘…a spiky, angry film…Coogan and Winterbottom clearly have justified anger in their scabrous satire…’

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.

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  1. You act like the poor aren’t already rioting and looting. The democrat party fueled city riots across the US over the last 2 years give lie to that.
    I think the issue you mean is when the middle class decides to crazy too. I don’t think we’re far from that tipping point.

    As for my take on hollywood, you’re spot on. Considering it’s filled with druglords, sex traffickers, child rapists and all other sorts of villains, how can I say otherwise? 😀

        • The ‘orange man bad’ narrative is pretty compelling from where I’m sitting…this film is about a lack of accountability, and that’s exactly the issue the US has right now, across the politcal board…

    • He plays this well, and I admire the way he and Winterbottom seem to work, many strings to their bow. This is a timely if disheartening film; in real life, it’s us who get thrown to the lions.

  2. I have to admit, as soon as I saw the title of the this post, I immediately thought of Gordon Gekko’s “Greed is Good.” I had forgotten for a moment that film is called Wall Street and not Greed. How differently that film lands today!

    • And it’s not the 1927 Greed either. I think it was a miscalculation of Oliver Stone that his villain of choice, Gecko, became a poster boy for greedy capitalists. Despite a sequel, Stone has never quite managed to reverse that Streisand effect.

      PS I don’t accept Marty as being one of Rory’s boyfriends. I have thought extensively about it.

      • I am glad you addressed Marty. I needed your thoughts. Marty is the road not taken by the writers because he is so perfect for Rory that the show would’ve had no conflict and become boring. I stand by the writer’s choices but not Rory’s!

        • I guess it takes her mother SO long to understand the Luke is the only guy who treats her with respect, so Rory isn’t due to make that breakthorough until she’s well into her 40’s…this does make me question ASP and her choice to launch Rory into an unhappy set of life choices for our entertainment, and set an bad example to impressionable viewers that having a lousy boyfriend is ok…

    • No, but this is satire. I know people whose lives were absolutely ruined by Green’s actions. This gets a three because watching it made me feel very angry, which is what was intended, but I appreciate that getting angry isn’t what all viewers want. That’s why it surprised me to see it win a Netflix popularity poll.

    • Yes, but they’ve put the sequence featuring James Blunt’s You’re Beautiful back in, since it featured in the original novel McTeague.

    • And that had been cut from the 15-hour original. Von Stroheim of course famously struggled to get the right title – at various times it was known as Green, Greek, Greel and Greet.

          • I always appreciate how informative the comments section on this blog is. Before today I had no idea von Stroheim was the first choice to direct “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” but now, it seems obvious. Jim Carey was a fan of the original 19-and-a-half-hour cut, from what I’ve heard on the internet, which never lies.

            • Yup, we don’t fact check the comments, and somehow the truth always gets out…never bothered with the 19 hour cut, the full three week version of Greed is the one I prefer…

                • Are you sure it wasn’t the 15th intermission in your third year of Greed? I’ve not seen the eight year version, but apparently it’s really worth the effort.

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