The Laundromat (2019)
Director: Steven Soderbergh | Runtime: 1h 35mins | Comedy, Drama
Based on true events, this film takes a look at the corruption and scandal of lawyers Jurgen Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Ramon Fonseca (Antonio Banderas), who’s business protected rich people’s money from tax, by creating ‘companies’ abroad. One of the innocent people affect by the corruption is widow Ellen Martin, who just wants justice to be done.
The first instinct here is to compare Soderbergh’s newest venture to the style of Adam McKay’s The Big Short (2015) or Vice (2018) that take a important story, that has very little entertainment value, and moulds it with fast-pace energy to really give the audience understanding. It’s a very sharp way to keep an audience invested in something that they otherwise would struggle with. For The Laundromat, Soderbergh attempts a similar style of nodding to the camera using an all-star cast to bolster the films appeal, but while McKay’s films strike a balance of information and entertainment, Soderbergh may have bitten off more than he can chew.
This film does enough to keep you grasped entertainment wise, finding smooth transitions and using it’s downtime to have the two highlight performers (Oldman and Banderas) lock eyes with you and give you a quick recap, but you can’t help but feel that somewhere the film loses you. It’s episodic structure is nothing like the one promised in the trailer, which paints Meryl Streep’s character as the film’s protagonist which sadly just isn’t true. Instead it uses it’s runtime to deep dive into the specifics of Mossack and Fonseca’s business regime, and just what they do. While this is all moderately interesting, it lacks the human part of the film that is so integral to making this kind of style work. Meryl Streep’s character is the closest they come to really hitting home the personal tragedy aspect of the story, but after numerous chapters she merely becomes a distant memory.
The film is broken up into numerous chapters that try to highlight the complexity but rather emphasise the confusion of it’s own story, just when you feel comfortable enough with Streep you get an entire section dedicated to an African-born millionaire living in Los Angeles. Then the film decides to make another U-turn and head to China for some British/Chinese alignment and corruption (a chapter that includes an eye being cut out), and then by the end you’re completely perplexed as to what you were even supposed to understand. These chapters work as fairytales, as Oldman so delicately puts it “Think of them as fairytales that actually happened”. But this idea, and the whole fantasied style of the film work against any kind of understanding this film demands. Even in the very last scene where Streep gets some strong monologuing in about America’s tax situation, you’ll be too lost to feel the affects of the intended punch this film is trying to give you.
It’s a film that throws a lot at you, and the truth is there’s so much you’re expected to understand that you’ll be lost before it really kicks in. Shells, offshore companies, tax havens, these are just some elements that need explaining throughout, and while having Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas explain them too you is a welcoming prospect, there’s barely any time left at the end of the films runtime to feel anything. Not to pry to much on comparison, but the beauty of The Big Short was that despite all it’s jargon, the subtly and power of it’s ending is what it should be praised for. This is something that Soderbergh just can’t capture, depending on the information and the slick visuals but lacking the emotionality. Even when the film feels like it’s leading you towards an emotional connection, mostly in the form of Streep’s Ellen Martin, it becomes too bogged down in it’s own information.
A film with good intentions and an intriguing approach, but the final product is a misstep that leaves the director overreaching for something that he just can’t quite grasp. Even the standout performances from Banderas and Oldman are bittersweet in there own way, the over-the-top approach and fairytale-like visual are doing nothing for the importance of the real story behind them. Even in the final moments where Soderbergh strips his film of any walls and just wants you to listen, you’ll be too dazed by the lack of authenticity the film is inadvertently promoting throughout.