All the (Digital) Thieves In The World: A Review Of 'The Laundromat'
An angry, yet humor-filled, narrative inspired by the Panama Papers exposes the venal world of offshore-corporate finance, shell companies, and the global lawyers that take advantage of the regular people
Steven Soderbergh is technically retired from making motion pictures, but gauging from his made-for-TV/streaming service output since announcing said retirement, it looks like his creative juices have certainly not stopped flowing. His very latest, a Netflix exclusive, The Laundromat, also finds him in an angry, combative frame of mind.
In 2015, a John Doe, who to this day has not been unmasked, dumped reams of files and information about the deceitful world of offshore companies and their lawyers, and how the proliferation of shell companies muddle any notion of fiduciary responsibility. It was basically an expose about how the greedy and venal take advantage of tax loopholes and use these twisted, technically legal means to stick it to the unsuspecting regular Joes of the world.
Like The Big Short or The Wolf of Wall Street, the subject matter of The Laundromat isn’t one of high drama or heroic characters—a challenge for any film-maker. So leave it to Soderbergh to employ tongue-in-cheek black humor and having his characters break the fourth wall, to keep the proceedings entertaining and riveting.
Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas are pitch perfect as the shady corporate lawyers Mossack and Fonseca, two of the “stars” of the expose. They’re hilarious, they’re brazen and callous—they’re cartoon-evil, like Dick Dastardly as an attorney. And you’ll love their outrage on how we can even consider them as villains of the piece. Yes, they may be facilitators for money-laundering, but they’re not involved with the evil that created the dirty money; they’re just there to provide the service of “cleaning” the cash.
Meryl Streep’s everywoman character is an integral part of the story, as she humanizes the criminal activity and shows us who end up as victims of the process. Widowed because of an unfortunate river accident, she brings home how all the offshore financial skullduggery results in regular people being trampled upon for the unscrupulous financial gain of others.
Ultimately, the film has a strong sense of righteous anger, but falls short of truly elucidating us on the subject matter. Oldman and Banderas are terrific, and the breaking of the fourth wall is effective, but there are a number of big questions left unanswered.
The Laundromat is not your usual Netflix material—it’s not all that commercial, and lacks the “I’m making a statement” of last year’s Roma, and this year’s The Irishman and Marriage Story. But I’ve always loved black comedy and attempts to make esoteric subject matter and events more comprehensible to the public—and on there two counts, Laundromat works its own magic and tries its best.
The Laundromat is currently available to stream on Netflix.