REVIEW: ‘The Laundromat’ is a Comedic Look at The Panama Papers

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The Laundromat, directed by Steven Soderbergh, with a screenplay by Scott Z. Burns, adapted from “Secrecy World” by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Jake Bernstein, is a Netflix Original movie following Ellen Martin (Meryl Streep) after she lost her husband on a boating accident while the two were on vacation. After the tragedy, Ellen begins to investigate the fake insurance policy that is keeping the cruise company from having to take responsibility for the deaths they caused.

However, she quickly finds herself being caught in the middle 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. However, the boating accident is only the tip of the iceberg as Ellen’s predicament only hints at the tax evasion, bribery, and other illicit activities that the super-wealthy indulge in to stay super-wealthy.

The film moves back and forth between Ellen and various characters, taking detours in China, Mexico, and the Caribbean to show just how far the corruption goes. The movie is based on the real 2016’s Panama Papers publication where journalists revealed the secret, leaked documents of Mossack Fonseca’s high-profile patrons.

The Laundromat features a cast of characters all effected by the insurance scam. And while Ellen is at the center, a lot of stand-out performances come from the supporting cast. Particularly Jürgen Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Ramón Fonseca (Antonio Banderas) who are not only the founding partners of the law firm at the center of the fraud but act as narrators through the story. They occasionally cut in to explain economic concepts like how offshore companies work.

A lot of the plot assumes the audience understands these nuisances and considering how complicated  United States laws can get, the explanations of various concepts are welcome. Additionally, they never feel like lessons are brilliantly woven into the narrative. Oldman and Banderaras are so charismatic as Mossack and Fonseca that they could read me the dictionary in character and I would be intrigued.

The Laundromat at times can feel convoluted but so are banking and tax regulations. The film is not a political thriller, and for that, it does suffer a bit. Instead interweaves connected stories. This can make it at times feel a tad disjointed. Ellen is meant to be the center of everything but there are moments where the stories don’t quite line up. And while Ellen wants answers and continues to investigate on her own she is never a major part of the leaking of the papers.

Her story is more there to showcase how much regular people are hurt by the harmful and negligent laws than anything else. Similarly, David Schwimmer plays Matthew Quirk, an owner of the boating company that had the faulty insurance policy. Schwimmer doesn’t have a huge role in the movie but his character was fascinating. Matthew didn’t know he bought fraudulent insurance. He doesn’t want to rip off anyone, certainly not the families with dead loved ones.

The Laundromat attempts to give an understanding of how the rich benefit from tax avoidance, offshore companies, and so forth. As well as how much the rich will do to keep those benefits. From money laundering, to bribery, to murder, the rich will do a lot to stay in power and stay wealthy. It also sheds light on how that hurts regular individuals.

Overall, the movie is an important watch but can be difficult to understand. After completing it, I researched the Panama Papers wanted to rewatch it again. With so many complex ideas and policies being discussed, it is hard to take everything in with one watch. Either way, fans of history or similar films like The Big Short or The Wolf of Wallstreet should press play.

The Laundromat is streaming now on Netflix

The Laundromat
  • 7/10
    The Laundromat - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

Overall, the movie is an important watch but can be difficult to understand. After completing it, I researched the Panama Papers wanted to rewatch it again. With so many complex ideas and policies being discussed, it is hard to take everything in with one watch. Either way, fans of history or similar films like The Big Short or The Wolf of Wallstreet should press play.