The unequaled filmmaker Steven Soderbergh has proven capable of the best films (Sex, Lies, and Videotape; Traffic; Ocean’s Eleven) throughout a career that spans nearly 40 years. At times evoking theatrical slapstick, this documentary-style comedy based on the Panama Papers, aptly titled The Laundromat, is not among his most successful efforts despite featuring an incredible cast with Meryl Streep, Antonio Banderas, and Gary Oldman occupying central roles. The plot’s occurrences were taken from the incidents described in Jack Bernstein’s novel The Secrecy World starting with Ellen Martin (Streep), a persistent widow who decides to investigate who’s behind the fraudulent scheme that left her without insurance compensation after she had lost her husband in a boating accident.
Curiosity and perseverance take her to Panama, where she locates two greedy lawyers, the film’s narrators Jürgen Mossack (Oldman) and Ramón Fonseca (Banderas), who mine the global financial system to their advantage. Corruption, fraud, tax evasion, money laundering, the exploitation of innocent people, and illegal offshore machinations are exposed and explained with a ridiculous posture that often feels more vexatious than favorable.
“…a persistent widow who decides to investigate who’s behind the fraudulent scheme…”
From the three stories emerging from Scott Z. Burns’ screenplay, the one involving an adulterous African billionaire (Nonso Anozie) turns out to be the drollest. While the third one, a reconstruction of the assassination of British businessman Neil Haywood (Matthias Schoenaerts) by Chinese attorney and businesswoman Gu Kailai (Rosalind Chao), is permeated with supplementary tension.
Even with the best of the intentions in mind, Soderbergh couldn’t avoid a mess. The Laundromat splashes about a sea of silliness and artifice. The revelation of names, their scams, and their shameless impunity are all that was left, and despite the mixed feelings, I hope the film can get people to avoid this plague in the future.
"…documentary-style comedy based on the Panama Papers..."