Last night I finally saw Steven Soderbergh‘s The Laundromat (Netflix, currently streaming), and was surprised to discover that the dour Rotten Tomato ratings (44% Tomatometer, 46% audience) are mostly unwarranted.
It’s a dry, brisk, fact-based satire of sorts, and quite the brilliant accomplishment when you consider what a labrynthian, all-but-impenetrable worldwide patchwork of hidden funds, shell companies and double-talking, money-laundering bullshit that Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns have boiled down into basic terms.
It’s a little splotchy and detour-y here and there, granted, but mostly I felt engrossed and diverted and never bored.
A complex saga of ducking, hiding and hoodwinking has been honed into a digestible and understandable mash that mostly focuses on a retirement-age widow (Meryl Streep) trying to figure out why an accident insurance policy is worthless in the wake of her late husband’s drowning death, and which eventually leads to…well, it’s complicated. But not uninteresting or unamusing.
It The Laundromat “uneven”? Yeah, but who could possibly expect a story this full of confusing, sidestepping narratives and tributaries to be “even”? Is it on the messy side? Yes, but how much of real life is neat and tidy?
I was basically grateful that I was comprehending most of it and was feeling more or less catered to. I took no breaks. I persevered. I chuckled from time to time.
Streep’s ultimate destination is the real-life, now-defunct law firm of Mossack-Fonseca, a Panama City film-flam operation run by Jurgen Mossack (a German-accented Gary Oldman) and Ramon Fonseca (Antonio Banderas). They basically offered thousands of well-heeled clients (some legit, some not) ways of hiding their money from taxation or detection.
Why are there so many thumbs-down assessments of The Laundromat? Because Soderbergh and Burns are basically explaining and in fact “saying” that rich people have their own way of living, operating and hiding their considerable assets, and that Average Joes have never had a clue about these tricky offshore games and never will, and that if their savings or investments happen to collide with the interests of the super-wealthy they’ll never win — that they’re basically clueless and destined to be taken to the cleaners for the rest of their lives by invisible Slick Willie types.
Soderbergh and Burns are basically delivering a wake-up call (the last shot is of Streep offering a raised fist) but the feeling you’re left with is “get used to it, you’ll never win”
It’s an intriguing, spottily entertaining 95 minutes, and at the end you’re left feeling a bit wiser about how fucked everything is (i.e, how unfair things are for working schmoes and how predatory the rich are). I basically don’t see the problem.
And I enjoyed the English-y performances delivered by the large cast — Streep, Oldman, Banderas, Sharon Stone, David Schwimmer, Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeffrey Wright, James Cromwell, Melissa Rauch, Larry Wilmore, Will Forte, Chris Parnell, Robert Patrick, Rosalind Chao, et. al.
Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday differs: “As inventive as The Laundromat is as an information vector, though, its semi-ironic tone is at odds with the content at hand: This is a movie that often feels like it’s fighting itself, asking viewers to be charmed by Oldman and Banderas’s characters one moment, and — maybe? — outraged the next.
“It all comes to a head in the film’s fabulously twisty final scene, which plays simultaneously like a clever metaphor, bravura moment of reckoning and attempt at sincerity that comes too late to undercut the inevitable paralysis that has set in over the past 90 minutes. By this time, torches and pitchforks — or, more realistically, legal and financial reform — are clearly what’s needed. But, as The Laundromat both abhors and exemplifies, martinis and tuxedos have proved to be much more seductive.”
Pic is based on Jake Bernstein‘s “Secrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite,”