In 2015, a whistle-blower under the guise of “John Doe” leaked a series of documents accusing various businesses and billionaires of money laundering and tax invasion, among other economic crimes. These eventually led to the 2016 “Panama Papers,” which then lead to absolutely nothing. Some were arrested, but, three years detached, most of the world has completely forgotten, while the elite continues to screw over the meek.
It’s a lot of information with a lot of implications, and therefore it makes sense a dramatized film set around these papers would end up a bit messy. In comes ex-retired director Steven Soderbergh and long time collaborator Scott Z. Burns, as they both tried their hardest to try and take a crack at making said dramatized film about these white-collar crimes.
Like the Papers themselves, the film ends up being a muddled mess.
Much akin to The Big Short (Adam McKay’s tale on the 2008 market crash), The Laundromat implements various vignettes showcasing how the Panama Papers affected normal, everyday people. These stories are separated into chapters and threaded together through narration from Antonio Banderas and Gary Oldman, both playing two skeevy businessmen who together try to educate the audience about the history of the Papers.
Though we follow a huge cast of characters as we weave through these various tales of tragedy, a majority of the film’s running time is spent with Meryl Streep and her investigation into insurance fraud. As always, Streep brings her A-game as a recently widowed woman who would go to the ends of the earth to make sure she brings attention to the conspiracy she’s trying so hard to prove. Unfortunately, we don’t spend nearly enough time with her story, and the moments spent elsewhere are severely lacking that presence.
Still, the various other stories told end up being the strongest aspect of the film, whether it be a rich man’s attempt to silence his daughter over the discovery of his affair, or a British man dealing with a dangerous group of individuals in China. They’re all done in different styles and tones, and while it does come across as disjointed at times, they always had my attention and I could never say I was bored.
The same cannot be said for the off-putting and distracting narration by Banderas and Oldman. While I understand the Panama Papers are a hard topic to discuss, it would have been for the better to just show people the damage and cut the talk about “shell corporations” and mathematics. It doesn’t help when both actors are hamming it up and talking in an over the top, almost parody-like fashion; this is especially true with Gary Oldman, whose odd German accent which made it nearly impossible to actually understand him.
Like the aforementioned narration, there are a lot of questionable choices with The Laundromat: some small, like the confusing chapter titles that never seem to be appropriate for said chapters, some as gross and problematic as Streep eventually playing a Hispanic woman with a thick and exaggerated accent. The film ends up becoming a trampoline act, going from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in a matter of seconds.
The Laundromat is certainly troubled, but there’s enough good here to warrant a rainy day Netflix watch if you’re really into the idea of a Panama Papers dramatization. But if you’re going into The Laundromat hoping to learn much, I’d recommend just doing your own research instead.
dir. Stephen Soderbergh
Opens Friday, 10/11 @ Kendall Square Cinema
Streaming Friday, 10/18 on Netflix