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With his latest film (and second of 2019) The Laundromat, versatile filmmaker Steven Soderbergh essentially directs a Wikipedia entry with a point of view. That’s not a dig. The film chronicles the so-called Panama Papers incident from 2015, during which 11.5 million documents were leaked that detailed information on over 200,000 offshore entities. This information unveiled large-scale tax avoidance and illegal activities from various wealthy persons in positions of power. It was also, well, difficult to explain and tough to boil down to a concise “here’s why this is bad” argument. Enter Soderbergh and his frequent screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, who use Jake Bernstein’s book Secrecy World as source material to craft a largely compelling, often funny, and ultimately infuriating ensemble film that uses its starpower, direct address, and an unforgettable final shot to call U.S. citizens to action.
The Laundromat is not a traditional film, and that’s clear from the opening sequence, in which Gary Oldman’s Jürgen Mossack and Antonio Banderas’ Ramón Fonesca—partners of the law firm tied to the Panama Papers, Mossack Fonesca—directly address the audience to begin this tale of how the wealthy and powerful hide and grow their money. They serve a similar purpose to the celebrity interludes of The Big Short, but do so with incredible gusto as Oldman’s accent can only be described as a more joyous Werner Herzog.
Audience - Story - Ellen - Martin - Meryl
The audience is then whisked away to the story of Ellen Martin (Meryl Streep), a mild-mannered woman with heartbreaking ties to one of the shell companies involved in the Panama Papers. Following an incident, she begins her own little investigatory quest that puts her in contact with some of the major players involved in maintaining this vast fortune. She subsequently goes all Murder, She Wrote on Mossack Fonesca.
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