Based on the book by Jake Bernstein which had to do with the 2016 scandal involving the Panama Papers, this is a quirky look at insurance policy fraud and how some of the wealthy in the United States amass their fortune via the crooked financial system. It should not come as a surprise that it always ends up being the middle class and those in need who end up paying the price. We are stepped all over on the rich’s way to the top of the money pile.
Speaking of money, Netflix has become a big player not only in the episodic series arena, but also in feature films. That is because they have the money to throw behind their projects. As such, they have really begun to attract big names to their projects. In this one alone you have Steven Soderbergh (Magic Mike, Ocean’s Thirteen) directing and the cast is made up of big names like Meryl Streep, Antonio Banderas, Gary Oldman, James Cromwell, Melissa Rauch, David Schwimmer, Jeffrey Wright, Sharon Stone, Will Forte, Chris Parnell, Matthias Schoenaerts, and Robert Patrick. A large and impressive cast!
That being said, Netflix has money and their shows/films demonstrate that. Everything looks great and usually is of high quality.
After a tragic boating accident while on vacation, Ellen Martin (Meryl Streep – Little Women – 2019, The Devil Wears Prada) finds herself a widow when her husband Joe (James Cromwell – The Green Mile, L.A. Confidential) dies. As if that isn’t horrible enough she finds herself swindled out of the insurance money. Further, it does not seem like anyone is going to look into why the company is not paying out the money she is owed.
Not willing, as most do, to sit back and take it, Ellen begins her own investigation. She begins to track down the two Panama City partners, Jurgen Mossack (Gary Oldman – The Darkest Hour, Bram Stoker’s Dracula) and Ramon Fonseca (Antonio Banderas – The Mask of Zorro, The Skin I Live In), who are behind it all. The two are partners in a Panama City law firm and have made their fortunes helping the rich earn, in not an entirely legal way, even more money.
Soon we learn that Ellen is not the only victim of Mossack and Fonseca. Simone (Jessica Allain – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Eddie the Eagle), daughter of the wealthy African, Charles (Nonso Anozie – Cinderella, Pan), finds out her shares in an investment company are worthless, another shell company. Finally, Maywood (Matthias Schoenaerts – Rust and Bone, The Danish Girl) is a man who launders money for the wealthy through – you guessed it – a shell company set up by Mossack and Fonseca. He threatens a wealthy Chinese businesswoman (Rosalind Chao – The Joy Luck Club, Just Like Heaven) and ends up dead from a poisoned drink.
The Laundromat, which debuted at the Venice Film Festival and also screened at TIFF in 2019, introduces those not really aware of what really happened during the recent financial scandals to the concept of shell companies. Shell companies along with offshore accounts (in countries with less “restrictive” laws) allow the rich to take advantage of those who don’t have the financial means to know all the ins and outs of the money system.
Being a corrupt system, is not something which should shock many out there. Money and the gaining of it, is often a world filled with sleazeballs and those with malleable morals. The rich indulge in tax evasion (Hello, Mr Trump!), bribery and many other sketchy methods to keep what they have or make even more money.
Though this is not really a documentary, it does kinda, at times have the feel of one. Though it is told in a dramatic film way. The story shows us how the corruption runs deep and spans most of the planet. Here, we travel to Mexico, China, Africa, as well as throughout the United States to follow the trail of illicit acts. Despite all the travel and people involved the point of the story comes through loud and clear.
That being said, despite the casts best efforts, a lot of the film is rather muddled. Confusing. Most due to the poor writing. Scott Z. Burns (Contagion, The Bourne Ultimatum) has worked with Soderbergh before and definitely done better stuff. Despite the fact that I was really focused as this is a subject which interests me I found myself often confused and my attention wandering as a result.