It goes without saying but truth is stranger than fiction…even when we’ve kind of already seen it before.
Starting up a limited theatrical engagement at the TIFF Bell Lightbox this week; The Laundromat is a fun little examination into the recent Panama Papers scandal but it also slides into fairly lazy territory being kind of derivative of other films that have come before it.
When her idyllic vacation takes an unthinkable turn, Ellen Martin (Meryl Streep) begins investigating a fake insurance policy, only to find herself down a rabbit hole of questionable dealings that can be linked to a Panama City law firm and its vested interest in helping the world’s wealthiest citizens amass even larger fortunes. The charming — and very well-dressed — founding partners Jürgen Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Ramón Fonseca (Antonio Banderas) are experts in the seductive ways shell companies and offshore accounts help the rich and powerful prosper. They are about to show us that Ellen’s predicament only hints at the tax evasion, bribery and other illicit absurdities that the super wealthy indulge in to support the world’s corrupt financial system.
It’s hard for Steven Soderbergh to genuinely make a bad movie, but The Laundromat is about as close as he’s going to get to that sort of thing because while it’s informative with some entertaining moments it almost plays out like a carbon copy of films like The Big Short. It’s a lively affair but far too staid to rise above being anything more than a loaded TV movie going over some current political issues.
There’s no doubt he knows how to make something entertaining but he honestly undercuts the issues at hand for the sake of entertainment. Granted for a Netflix audience that’s OK but it leads it in to being more of a disposable affair rather then something with a cast of this pedigree could spin into something more political and awards season ready. It’s entertaining to be sure, but its pap and that’s OK because for most this is actually how some of these issues and events that have been taking place will get digested.
Adapted from the book Secrecy World by Jake Bernstein, the script from frequent Soderbergh collaborator Scott Z Burns has more than enough zing to it to get the job done but it feels hollow. Rather than tackling some of the issues around this story in a fresh way, it borrows too much with its narrator format. Sure it’s fun, but also tends to slide into moments where it’s kind of giving us the lowest common denominator of the facts at hand.
Led by the iconic Meryl Streep in a duel role (keep your eyes peeled for it) she is deftly managing some fun moments playing it straight as the victim of a wide reaching insurance scam and allowing some moments of gonzo comedy to seep in. Both Oldman and Banderas are inspired as the narrators of our story and while the likes of Matthias Schoenaerts, Sharon Stone, Will Forte, Robert Patrick, Jeffrey Wright, David Schwimmer, Chris Parnell, Nonzo Anosie, Larry Wilmore, Melissa Rauch, James Cromwell among others get to add a little bit of colour to the proceedings there just isn’t enough character meat on the bone with any of these players for us to get really attached to the story.
Ultimately, The Laundromat is a very pointed and technically accurate political statement about the state of the financial system which is easily corruptible for those with the means (some of whom even made this movie) but it plays with such a little touch with too similar a tone of a film like The Informant which both Soderbergh and writer Scott Z Burns did together and while you’re entertained for its 95 minute or so running time, you just can’t help but shake the feeling that “Been There, Done That” kind of feeling.
The Laundromat is playing at TIFF Bell Lightbox exclusively now…it hits the streaming service on Oct. 18th
- Release Date: 10/4/2019