The Laundromat (2019) Netflix Review: A complex subject presented in a satirical manner
The Laundromat is now streaming on Netflix
The Panama Papers encompasses a world of unaccountable offshore companies that launder dodgy cash and allow ‘the haves’ to avoid tax. Too bland? Well, it does come across as something quite technical and troublesome to understand when examined by a layperson with a magnifying glass.
Imagine this being presented to us in the form of a movie. A movie where we don’t get a word of what is being said and instead get a cool detective thriller focusing on this complex subject. It would no doubt be entertaining, but would anyone be able to understand a word?
That’s what director Steven Soderbergh wanted to avoid. In ‘The Laundromat’, he gives us a film based on true events. Written by Scott Z Burns, The Laundromat is inspired by the 2017 book Secrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers by the Pulitzer-winning journalist Jake Bernstein.
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The Laundromat reflects the condition of regular people. Those who are never going to inherit the earth and whose only purpose is to entrust their life savings to appealing names. They do so as they too are looking to save money. It tells us the story from the perspective of the meek who are legally swindled by these appealing names.
One of those is Ellen Martin. Played by Meryl Streep she is an elderly woman who visits a lake in New York for her 40th wedding anniversary. On a ferry ride on the lake, a freak accident occurs which kills many passengers including her husband James Martin. Trouble arises when the ferry company’s insurance policy turns out to be a dud. Ellen Martin decides to do whatever she can to track down the entity which distances itself from the tragedy. Streep in this film is magnificent and she portrays the rage and helplessness of a victim in a manner that gets the audience to feel for her. I loved that one scene where she plays out a scenario in her head.
The choice of accident used in this film is symbolic. A wave rocks a boat and causes it to overturn. Some of the travelers don’t survive whilst others do. It’s akin to how a wave rocked the boats of those who had kept their money in offshore tax havens. How they were taken down following that one wave which rocked their boat which up till this moment sailed in smooth waters.
The film has a few other subplots all focusing on individuals who get scammed by the Panama Papers scheme. These subplots made me assume that I was watching a stage play in an episodic anthology format. The things that held everything together were Jurgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca.
Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas play the two lawyers who were the brains behind the money laundering. They pop up with regularity akin to the pink panther in the pink panther and pick up the story whilst breaking the fourth wall and dumbing down the data for the layman. They come across as the pesky type of people who you would hate for their indifferent manner. Gary Goldman’s accent is weird and makes it seem as though he is dealing with a throat issue.
This film is attempting to educate the audience with its complex subject matter elects to take a comic route. Because of this, it may come across as an episodic satirical comedy documentary. Gary Oldman’s character when informed that there is no time, replies with, “time is an illusion.” It’s just odd to hear such a line at such a moment. The jumps are quite bizarre and the set pieces featuring Banderas and Oldman are quite over the top and bizarre. The duo is the glue that constantly reminded me that I was watching The Laundromat and not a few random episodes.
The sub-plots put me off and the scripting there was horrendous. Why would someone who formerly lived in Africa refer to a country in Africa akin to how westerners would refer to it?
At first, with it’s Disney Renaissance era styled introduction, you would assume that ‘The Laundromat’ is an attempt to paint the perpetrators of the incident as innocent victims. However, as the film progresses you may choose to adopt this line of thought or may even put your foot down and flatly refuse to believe this. Some people can be victims, but can the same be said about those who understand this and use it for their benefit.
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The presentation of the subject matter is unique and quite odd to come to terms with and you do begin to question if something as complex as this would’ve been easily comprehensible had it been presented to us in the usual manner. The Laundromat will be hated if it is viewed just for the sake of it.
I loved the way the film ends for it was completely unexpected. This unique and satirical take of a complex subject can be a hit or a miss. Initially, it was a miss for me. But then as I reflected upon its content my initial stance on the film softened slightly. In today’s rushed world would there be ample time to reflect on trivial things like films? Time will tell.