Title: The Laundromat (2019) Director: Steven Soderbergh Writer: Scott Z. Burns Studio: Netflix IMDb Plot: A widow investigates an insurance fraud, chasing leads to a pair of Panama City law partners exploiting the world's financial system. Joe Says: A wannabe convincing documentary that slides into a goofy and aloof crime caper that is most wanting.
The trailer for The Laundromat is fun, slick, and even slightly irreverent. The promotion is bank-heist hip, which Steven Soderbergh, director of the Ocean’s 11 trilogy and the incredibly-awesome Logan Lucky, knows a thing or two about. Within that two-minute preview, Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas portray lovable buffoons with mockingly glorious accents, Meryl Streep is exasperated goodness, and an electro-funk score plays out the good times. The movie itself? Maybe the editing team for the trailer should have been given the reigns for the full release.
Based on the anonymous leaks of the Panama Papers in 2016, The Laundromat features Oldman and Banderas – whose on-screen presence alone is the saving grace of the movie – as lawyers Mossack and Fonseca who narrate the film and speak to the concept and system of money laundering. Yeah, this is a heavy subject and Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns present the info in a series of semi-comedic vignettes similar to what Adam McKay did in The Big Short and, to a lesser extent, Vice. Whereas the education of the film works, the narrative breaks down quickly and frustratingly never resets.
A bridging sequence focuses on Streep, who plays a widow seeking her justifiable settlement claim over her husband’s (James Cromwell) accidental death. Streep’s story is the driving focus. Her character of Ellen is charming and relatable and there isn’t enough of her story. The film instead dives into tales of an African billionaire who is cheating on his family in multiple ways, a Chinese investor who seeks to break an illegal partnership with a British money launderer, and a polygamist insurance con artist. None of those asides are compelling and often ramble away with confusing conversations and plot points that are boring, unnecessary, and detract from Ellen’s quest of answers and, heaven forbid, justice. Justice, actually, does occur to a certain extent, yet not in a cinematographically compelling sense as the narrative is abandoned for word-for-word retelling of the facts.
Soderbergh excels with complex, meaningful, and yes fun, storytelling. From Sex, Lies, and Videotape’s Graham to Solaris’ Chris, Soderbergh’s characters often seek truth and redemption. Streep’s Ellen is a worthy addition, but she never receives a proper pay-off. Neither does the film.
Soderbergh almost seems to struggle between wanting to present a relative and convincing documentary yet slides into a goofy and aloof crime caper that is most wanting and where the ninety-five-minute run time is lightest of sentencing.