Steven Soderbergh's metafictional breakdown of the 2016 Panama Papers scandal is lively and eccentric, but it's insubstantial
THE LAUNDROMAT SPEC D: Steven Soderbergh. U.S. 96 min. Sep 10, 2:15 pm, Elgin Sep 13, 5 pm, Elgin Sep 14, 3:15 pm, TIFF 1. Rating: NNN
The Laundromat is an economics seminar presented as a series of moral lessons, as director Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns break down the 2016 Panama Papers scandal through an all-star metafictional prism.
Taking inspiration in equal parts from Jake Bernstein’s book Secrecy World and Damián Szifron’s 2014 comic anthology Wild Tales, Burns and Soderbergh set up a quartet of interweaving storylines.
Jürgen Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Ramón Fonseca (Antonio Banderas), whose Panama law firm allowed billionaires to set up elaborate shell companies to avoid paying local taxes on their holdings and income, walk us through the shell game that is global finance, explaining the origins of money and credit and demonstrating how those things bring out the absolute worst in people. Middle-class American senior Ellen Miller (Meryl Streep) is widowed in an accident, and finds her insurance claim thwarted by the shell-game malfeasance Mossack and Fonseca make possible. A wealthy Los Angeles family (Nonso Anozie, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Jessica Allain) is thrown into discord by infidelity. And a Chinese businesswoman (Rosalind Chao) negotiates a $200 million deal with a Western financier (Matthias Schoenaerts).
It’s all lively and eccentric and kind of insubstantial, despite the obvious talent in front of and behind the camera.
The final shot is a technical knockout, but its impact is diminished by an ill-advised surprise. I understand how they convinced themselves the stunt in question would work – the movie is playing its own shell game with us, after all – but it just doesn’t land as well as Burns and Soderbergh need it to, and winds up retroactively tainting about a third of the film.
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