The Laundromat




So much talent, so little worthy of that talent.

Laundromat, The

Rosalind Chao


Although directed by Steven Soderbergh, the impression that one gets on paper is that this film written by Scott Z. Burns is very much a companion piece to another autumn release, The Report, which Burns also wrote and which he directed himself. Both works draw on recent American history, view it critically and portray events eventually aired in published reports. Admittedly, money laundering and bribery which are the subject matter of The Laundromat are less appalling issues than the use of torture by the CIA which feature in The Report, but it is the tone adopted which makes the films so very different.


The crooked Panamanian lawyers Jürgen Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Ramón Fonseca Mora (Antonio Banderas) are real people, but they are introduced to us in The Laundromat in a totally stylised setting and from then on they frequently address the audience direct (indeed there is a jokey line that involves them referring to "the director of this movie"). The other main character is played by Meryl Streep. This is Ellen Martin who early on loses her husband (James Cromwell) when a boat capsizes during a trip on a lake, but in spite of this the film maintains its light tone. When Ellen discovers that the boat owner's insurance was in effect non-existent due to a scam involving bogus insurance companies, she sets out to get at the truth and this leads her to the law firm Mossack Fonseca.


The story is told in distinct sections and touches on a wide range of locations. That may have its attractions, but it can't conceal the fact that The Laundromat is indeed very episodic. As it happens, that means that in the second half Streep is off-screen for much of the time. This is surprising because we are expecting her rather unrewarding role to blossom and, when it doesn't, we miss her and the sure touch that she brings even to such a role as this. Inevitably we are left wondering why she chose to play in this film, and equally one wonders why Steven Soderbergh (as involved as ever - see the credits for photography and editing) thought that this screenplay was worthy of his attention.


Given that The Report is hard going due to the complex detail of its material, initially The Laundromat feels welcomingly easy to relate to. However, its satirical humour fails to hold up due to its lack of real bite (I longed for the sharpness of, say, Billy Wilder). Furthermore, a section that almost stands on its own in the second half and focuses on a client of Mossack Fonseca named Mr Charlie (Nonso Anozie) contains material well suited to ironic humour yet plays as something close to drama (or should that be melodrama?). The Laundromat has diverting moments but, having regard to the many talents involved in its making, the end result is a film that can only be regarded as disappointing.




Cast: Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, Nonso Anozie, Rosalind Chao, Jeffrey Wright, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alex Pettyfer, Melissa Rauch, David Schwimmer, Robert Patrick, Sharon Stone, James Cromwell.


Dir Steven Soderbergh, Pro Scott Z.Burns, Lawrence Grey, Gregory Jacobs, Steven Soderbergh and Michael Sugar, Screenplay Scott Z. Burns, from the book by Jake Bernstein, Ph Peter Andrews (i.e. Steven Soderbergh), Pro Des Howard Cummings, Ed Mary Ann Bernard (i.e. Steven Soderbergh), Music David Holmes, Costumes Ellen Mirojnick.


Anonymous Content/Grey Matter Productions/Netflix/Topic Studios-Netflix.
96 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 27 September 2019 and on Netflix from 18 October 2019. Cert. 15.