- Allan Hunter
- 16 September 2019
TIFF 2019: Steven Soderbergh turns the Panama Papers scandal into a self-indulgent, star-studded romp
The Panama Papers was a confusing farce of a scandal, which might explain why Steven Soderbergh has decided to depict it in such a pantomime fashion. The epic, globetrotting saga of financial impropriety, tax-dodging scams and their hapless victims is transformed into a freewheeling, star-studded, finger-wagging affair that feels more like a self-indulgent romp than a lament for the sorry state of the world. Soderbergh's own reputation might also be an issue here, as you expect so much more from the Oscar-winning director of Traffic.
Soderbergh's oddest choice is to hire Antonio Banderas and Gary Oldman as our nattily-attired, cocktail-swigging hosts. They are the pantomime dames of the enterprise, with Oldman hamming it up something rotten as ze German-born Jürgen Mossack. Banderas is Ramón Fonseca and the duo represent the law firm who made it their business to instruct their billionaire clients in the subtle niceties between tax avoidance and tax evasion.
A tapestry of stories and characters, The Laundromat doesn't necessarily leave you any wiser about the finer details of the Panama Papers, or what they told us that we didn't really know already about the growing inequalities between rich and poor. Instead, we flit between sketchily realised events in China, Mexico and the Bahamas, as widowed pensioner Ellen Martin (Meryl Streep) follows a vast paper trail to discover why so many insurance companies were unwilling or unable to pay the compensation claims that should have followed automatically from the tragic death of her husband.
A swanky ensemble cast, that ranges from David Schwimmer to Sharon Stone via Jeffrey Wright and Matthias Schoenaerts, means that The Laundromat is never exactly dull, but it feels quite random as it skims across the surface of something that deserves a good deal more profundity.
Screened as part of the Toronto International Film Festival 2019. Selected cinema release from Fri 27 Sep and on Netflix from Fri 18 Oct.