The Laundromat: Film Review

I was really gutted when The Laundromat press screening was scheduled for after I left Venice this year – I love Steven Soderbergh and the cast he’s assembled – but it turns out I didn’t miss much at all. The Laundromat is a proper misfire.

The film focuses on the 2016 Panama Papers scandal in which certain high-profile figures were found to be using the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca to create shell companies and offshore accounts to protect their fortune. The Laundromat shows Jurgen Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Ramon Fonseca (Antonio Banderas) explaining how it works, Ellen Martin (Meryl Streep) digging around the world of offshore accounts to find out who bought her dream apartment, and other sequences showing how people with these accounts operate.

The Laundromat just felt liked a jumbled mess of scenes and not a cohesive whole. I figured it would try to explain the scandal in the same humorous way The Big Short did with the 2007-8 financial crisis, but it doesn’t achieve this. It was too odd, not very funny at all, and I feel like I only gained little nuggets of knowledge here and there but had no greater understanding of how offshores work and how Mossack Fonseca was busted. I had real trouble following it when David Schwimmer was discussing his insurance policy near the beginning and even still at the end with Matthias Schoenaerts‘ scene in China. I spent the majority of the movie in a state of confusion.

I like that Soderbergh took the unconventional, kooky, light-hearted approach but it felt a bit too light and fluffy at times, particularly towards the end. The film is structured around “secrets” and is very meta, with Oldman and Banderas talking to the camera often, being aware it’s a movie and mentioning that Soderbergh himself has an offshore account. I like actors breaking the fourth wall in general and their piece to camera scenes captured my attention, but Streep’s one at the end was bizarre, disconcerting and I didn’t get the point of it.

Because of the material, the actors don’t get an opportunity to show off their talents. Banderas was my favourite, he’s as charming as ever, but Oldman was so over-the-top, brash and annoying and I couldn’t figure out what accent he was going for – it was supposed to be German, yet it has a Cockney vibe. Streep just portrays the one-note victim, although she also bizarrely plays a Mossack Fonseca employee under some prosthetics. Bonkers. There were other familiar faces which popped up briefly from Sharon Stone, Melissa Rauch to Jeffrey Wright, whose character is swiftly arrested for fraud and then never seen again so we don’t clearly learn how he was involved. Stories are picked up and abandoned all over the place.

The Laundromat is the oddest film I’ve seen in a while. I applaud Soderbergh for trying to do something unusual but his experiment didn’t work. The end result is a confusing mess. Thankfully it’s only 95 minutes long.

Streaming on Netflix now

Rating: 2/5

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