“Greed” might be the most plainly obvious social-action message film that British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom has made yet. The director — who has glided with ease from literary dramas (“Jude”) to pop commentary (“24 Hour Party People”) and humorous travelogues (“The Trip” series) to suspense thrillers (“The Killer Inside Me,” “The Wedding Guest”) — has, in his latest film, crafted a scathing satirical portrait that burbles with barely contained rage.
Frequent Winterbottom collaborator Steve Coogan portrays Sir Richard McCreadie, known as the “King of High Street,” a lightly fictionalized fast-fashion tycoon largely accepted to be a portrayal of Topshop mogul Sir Philip Green. As McCreadie, Coogan — outfitted with a set of glaringly white, tile-sized fake teeth — is often referred to by a school nickname, “McGreedy,” a sociopathic entrepreneur, an inveterate gambler obsessed with the art of the deal. Not that there’s anything artful about his deals. Getting his start in the fashion business in the late ’70s, young McCreadie discovers the price of labor in Sri Lanka and sets out to exploit it for every penny he can.
“Greed” is told through several narrative layers. The main plot follows McCreadie’s hapless and rather gullible biographer, Nick (David Mitchell), as he conducts a sort of observation of his subject in Mykonos during preparations for his lavish 60th birthday celebration. Interviews with McCreadie’s nearest and dearest offer the opportunity for flashbacks to his youth, though the myth is frequently pierced by sobering moments from a parliamentary hearing regarding his shady business practices. All the while the party planning starts to spin out of control, thanks to McCreadie’s excessive demands, including a live lion housed in a coliseum built for the occasion; a shortage of celebrity guests requiring realistic doubles to be hired; and his desire to remove a group of Syrian refugees camping on a public beach. His daughter also happens to be filming a highly scripted reality show among the chaos.
The film is bitingly funny, thanks to Winterbottom’s script and supporting performances from comedic genius Mitchell, and Isla Fisher, who is unparalleled when it comes to playing the ridiculous ex-wives of wealthy men (see also: “The Beach Bum”).
The film sometimes wobbles while toeing the line between sarcasm and sincerity. Over the credits, Winterbottom suddenly splashes statistics about the grueling, underpaid reality for garment workers, linking data to facts about gender and income inequality. It’s arresting, but the rapid shift in tone could give one whiplash.
★★★ “Greed,” with Steve Coogan, David Mitchell, Isla Fisher. Written and directed by Michael Winterbottom. 104 minutes. Rated R for pervasive language and brief drug use. Opens March 6 at multiple theaters.