Steve Coogan has been playing Alan Partridge for so long that it was, I suppose, somewhat inevitable that a little bit of Partridge would spill into any other role Coogan takes. No great surprise, then, that Sir Richard McCreadie, the central character of Michael Winterbottom’s latest, has more than a touch of the Partridge about him.
Greed tells two stories. In the foreground is McCreadie as the preparations for his sixtieth birthday party proceed with varying degrees of success; surrounding this story is the biography writer Nick (David Mitchell) is hired by the family to write. McCreadie is a self-absorbed, vain, arrogant and boastful man, Alan Partridge made good and gone very bad. Coogan is capable of better, but even when he’s not trying terribly hard he’s a fantastically talented comic actor, and Winterbottom’s viciously sharp and barbed script gives him lines to chew on and spit out with bile and bitter; “I want Keith Richards here,” he barbs when a celeb lookalike runs late, “grinning like a tramp who won the lottery, which is basically what he is.” McCreedy is a nasty, spiteful man; such is Coogan’s acting skill that he manages to make his character as engaging as he does.
It helps, of course, that he’s surrounded by a very strong supporting cast. Isla Fisher as the earlier Mrs. McCreadie, Samantha, is just nasty enough to deserve McCreadie, just nice enough to make the audience sympathise with her, while Shanina Shaik as the current wife Naomi, barely older than her stepchildren, is a better actress than her previous career as a model might lead one to expect. But of particular note are Sophie Cookson as Lily, the daughter who has to stay in character as herself in a reality documentary about herself, Asa Butterfield as son-as-afterthought Finn who has a slightly too Oedipal reading of his relationship with Naomi, and assistant Amanda, played with the depth and sympathy that Amanda’s backstory really needs by an excellent Dinita Gohil.
And constantly in the background is Mitchell’s Nick. Mitchell, as does Coogan, plays to type, his Nick a slightly pathetic, slightly parodically timid Englishman, as he researches what’s intended to be the family hagiography. Within this context we are introduced to McCreadie as a schoolboy and younger man, Jamie Buckley looking the part of a younger Coogan. Winterbottom’s direction is sharp and snappy for much of the film, but this is where he’s at his most interesting, slipping between split-screen energy and straight-to-camera deco-style talking-head interviews. It might sound a little disjointed, but it works.
And so McCreedy’s birthday party goes ahead almost—but not really—as planned. He gets his comeuppance, obviously, and we’ve been primed to enjoy it, primed largely by a series of snippets of McCreadie (again very much echoing Green) being very feebly attached by a Parliamentary Select Committee chaired by a foppishly ineffectual (perhaps again playing to type?) Miles Jupp, Coogan effortlessly spiteful in his arrogance as he plays a man who simply no longer has to care. We’re also given an education in how to milk money from businesses; Nick needs to know how McCreadie was able to pay Samantha a billion-and-some-pound dividend from a failing company, and so he visits a newspaper journalist and uses the time-honoured “Explain it to me like I’m stupid” device which allows very explicit exposition without it feeling like the audience is being patronised—it’s time-honoured because it works.
Perhaps it’s because Greed was the first film Crave! has seen in a cinema since David Copperfield, back in March, when the world was a very different place; perhaps it’s because we’ve missed being in the cinema. But Greed was a great way to get back to the pictures. It’s a nasty, sharp, jagged film, but it’s a very entertaining one. And when you see it—you really, really should—make sure you sit through the info cards Winterbottom had to fight to get into the end of the film.