Acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh takes the helm of The Laundromat based on a screenplay by Scott Z. Burns. It comedically tells the story of the lawyers at the forefront of the infamous “Panama Papers” leak, which exposed shady dealings between lawyers, governments, criminals, bankers, and businessmen.
Ellen Martin’s (Meryl Streep) husband Joseph (James Cromwell) is killed during their dream vacation in a boating accident. When she tries to get the boat company to pay, it takes her down a rabbit hole of bankers, lawyers, insurance adjusters, and bureaucrats who are all connected to a Panama law firm run by shady, but seductive lawyers Jürgen Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Ramón Fonseca (Antonio Banderas). These two serve as guides who break the fourth wall to narrate the story.
Based on the book Secrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite by Jake Bernstein, the story has a similar vibe to Adam McKay’s The Big Short. While Oldman, Banderas, and Streep have the most screentime, it twists through a whole range of characters including a murderous Chinese businesswoman played by Rosalind Chao, a shady accountant played by Jeffrey Wright, a restaurant manager played by David Schwimmer, and a plethora of others. It is told as a black comedy with all of the serious incidents coated in funny circumstances and witty dialogue.
On these performances, they are well done. I especially loved Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas as the shady lawyers guiding us through the events that eventually lead to their demise. While everyone else performed admirably, the two of them, as expected, go above and beyond.
I have two points of contentions with the film. First, Nonso Anozie plays a shady businessman who is caught in an affair by his wife and daughter. While he is a fine actor, the story has very little to do with the plot and only slows down the pace of the movie a bit. It has some humor in it, but I felt that it was unnecessary within the context of the final product.
The next issue is the movie is incredibly preachy, particularly toward Americans. Despite the fact that the shady lawyers were not Americans, nor were they Americans, or even living in America, a lot of the shady business happened outside of America, Soderbergh is quick to call the American financial system at fault. Tax shelters are too blame for all the shenanigans and it demands reform, even playing a clip of former President Barack Obama to prove their point.
The final sequence of the film is Meryl Streep reciting a segment of the manifesto written by “John Doe” who released the “Panama Papers” to the public. I find it hilarious that Streep, who called alleged abuser Harvey Weinstein “god” at an awards ceremony, was allowed to sit on a high horse and preach to the audience about how the American tax system needs reform. What is even more hilarious, is that Oldman’s character admits “the director of this film” owns several houses. It is meant to show these celebrities as self-aware, but instead, it comes off as incredibly condescending and hypocritical. Reform taxes for thee, but not for me.
Bottom line, if you want to see your favorite actors perform well in cameos and are curious about the topic at hand, it is interesting and will keep your attention. However, it’s preachiness ruins the experience, making it feel more like a manifesto instead of cinema.
PARENTAL CONCERNS: Strong Foul Language, Violence, Drug and alcohol abuse, Some sexual content
FAVORITE QUOTE: Bad? Bad is such a big word, for being such a small word.
Check out the trailer below:
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