The infamous Panama Papers are tackled by wizard director Steven Soderbergh in “The Laundromat,” a sprawling, multi-layered account of what exactly was exposed. Frequent Soderbergh collaborator Scott Z. Burns adapts Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist Jake Bernstein's Secrecy World with the help of stalwart acting from Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Jeffrey Wright, and Antonio Banderas.
So what exactly were the Panama Papers? To put it in the simplest of terms, they were part of a hacked leak of over 11.5 million documents exposing elite celebrities, politicians and social figures who used offshore entities for the purpose of tax evasion. The unraveling of this criminal conspiracy started after middle-class retiree Ellen Martin (Streep) lost her husband in a freak ferry accident and went on a personal investigation into why her claims for insurance from the tragedy were never approved.
Like all governmental corruption, a paper trail was found by Ellen, which leads to Soderbergh telling us five different stories, all interconnected, about the supporting players in the scheme— those include Jeffrey Wright’s Jamaican legal binder, Nonso Anozie’s African businessman who hilariously pays off his daughter to hide an affair, Matthias Schoenaert‘s businessman in China who tries to bribe a Chinese politician’s wife, and Sharon Stone’s real estate broker in Vegas taking under-the-table cash from Russian developers.
Streep, de-glammed for the role with silly hat and clothes, is the best acting in the movie. In fact, this is a welcome surprise for the legendary actress, as the role is not the glamorous, Oscar-bait she is used to taking — no, this is Streep acting and having the time of her life in doping son. Least we mention that she also puts on prosthetic nose and a thick pan-Latin accent to play another role, that of the Havana secretary working with Mossack and Fonseca that may have been responsible for the leak. It’s a bizarre decision, but it works as Streep find oddball comic touches to prove she can even pull of the outrageous.
The narrative decision of having Jürgen Mossack (Oldman) and Ramón Fonseca (Banderas) give us a step-by-step account of the scheme rings false and heavy handed. Mossack and Fonseca try tho explain to us, in the simplest of terms, how they managed to find an endless assortment of loopholes in global finance by hiding off money “legally” and evading taxes. The end result is a knotty but entertaining economics lesson, with the kind of risk-taking and playful storytelling that keeps our attentions glued to the screen throughout the information-stuffed 95 minutes. [B]