Directed by: Michael Winterbottom
Premise: An ultra-wealthy family gathers on a Greek island for a lavish sixtieth birthday party for the father who is the CEO of a major fashion brand. The story alternates between the party preparations and the backstory of the CEO’s rise to fame and fortune.
What Works: Greed was directed by Michael Winterbottom. Many of his films have been quite serious such as The Killer Inside Me and A Mighty Heart so it is a surprise to find that Greed is a funny satire, albeit one with a dark and mordant sense of humor. The picture is led by Steve Coogan as a billionaire fashion mogul and this material has just the mix of comedy and drama that Coogan does well. The CEO is throwing himself a lavish birthday party themed around the 2000 movie Gladiator while also paying a writer to create a hagiography. The split narrative works for the movie because it allows the filmmakers to delve into the CEO’s past and outline his business in a way that is organic to the story. It also connects the gross display of wealth in the present with the foundations of his company. The writer’s research reveals that the fashion company’s huge profits are made possible by exploiting sweatshop workers in developing nations. Greed subversively punches a hole in the myth of the self-made man, contrasting the glossy official biography of wealth willed into being with determination and savvy with the grim realities of exploitation. The film isn’t preachy about this and the humor of the movie makes the harsher parts of the film easier to take. The tone of Greed is satirical but the film never quite gives itself over to become a full blown comedy. The pitch swings wildly but in a way that is appropriate to the movie. The narrative strings together comically absurd displays of wealth with some serious issues like economic exploitation and the filmmakers do that without cheapening the issues or spoiling the comedy. This makes for a strange brew of comic and dramatic elements that is funny but also unsettling.
What Doesn’t: Greed skewers the ultra-wealthy by emphasizing the awfulness of Coogan’s character and his family and the way they exploit the impoverished people around them. The film accomplishes what it sets out to do but it also misses part of the larger picture. The ultra-wealthy do not exist in a bubble. Their exploitation is aided and abetted by a web of laws and tax shelters but also by consumers who purchase their products while fully aware of how those goods were made. Greed attacks wealthy individuals and makes reference to legal and bureaucratic structures but it ignores the role of the consumer in sustaining this system of exploitation.
DVD extras: Featurette, deleted scene, and a trailer.
Bottom Line: Greed is an impressive satire. The movie has fun with its characters while dramatizing some serious issues and the humor of the film is disarming enough to keep the picture from feeling didactic. Its argument lets consumers off the hook but what’s here will lead viewers to consider their own role in this system.
Episode: #814 (August 23, 2020)