Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Scott Z. Burns
Starring: Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, Jeffrey Wright, Robert Patrick, David Schwimmer
Learning about corruption through comedy serves as an effective way of breaking down what may be perceived to be a difficult subject matter. For all its warts, I personally learned a lot about the housing crisis through The Big Short and the way it broke down all of the elements leading up the crash. The Laundromat takes a similar approach but in a vastly inferior and ineffective manner.
Narrated by Jurgen Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Ramon Fonseca (Antonio Banderas), as they lead the audience through three different stories surrounding shell companies and how they launder money in a way to financially circumvent regulations and responsibilities. The first tale follows Ellen (Meryl Streep) as she attempts to claim damages after the loss of her husband aboard a commercial vehicle.
Without a doubt, The Laundromat seeks to inform about money laundering and the release of the Panama Papers. It displays the transferrable nature of those funds and those who know the by-laws and loopholes could effectively swindle anyone that does business with them. That cannot be taken away from this film, but it forgot to have an actual narrative that makes sense. It’s surprising considering Scott Z. Burns helmed the script and Steven Soderbergh was behind the camera for this story to be so ill-conceived and have no narrative sense or flow. The film sets up these characters as if the audience should care for them, but doesn’t leave enough time to sit with what just occurred to them. The character work feels shoddy at best and left much to be desired.
The guides through this experience are portrayed by Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas. Two tremendous actors, who are obviously having fun with the smugness of their characters. They represent two financial gurus who help the richest get away with murder and do it with a smile. They speak directly to the audience and laugh at the obliviousness of the common person in regard to these issues. Oldman tried some type of accent that remained indistinguishable and Banderas chewed up the scenery like he deserves to do.
The closest person the film provides as a protagonist to follow is Meryl Streep’s Ellen and her nonstop pursuit to expose the corruption happening. Ellen follows the money and makes real traction in shining a light on financial fraud. The problem lies with the film cutting away from her story to tell other ones that have to introduce a whole new batch of characters, their motivations, and then actually care when something bad happens. Streep has a moment where she displays why she’s a legend but it’s immediately coupled by one of the biggest atrocities in her career. Let’s just say that there’s Meryl Streep under plenty of makeup and prosthetics that make her look like she’s of a different ethnicity. It’s beyond me how there has not been more conversation by how disrespectful it was, as it was going for laughter, but I’m not sure who would find that humorous. It’s baffling and horrifying, especially coming from someone like Meryl Streep.
The final product of this film because it has everything right on paper. The Laundromat has a strong cast. Along with everyone mentioned above, there’s also Sharon Stone, David Schwimmer, Matthias Schoenaerts, and Jeffrey Wright. It had no business being this poorly made and yet that’s what landed on Netflix. Sloppy storytelling and an awful character reveal take away any of the redeeming qualities and educational aspects this film could possibly offer. A complete misfire by Steven Soderbergh, which is just incredibly disappointing because he serves as a fresh voice willing to take risks in filmmaking.