The following is a review of The Laundromat — Directed by Steven Soderbergh.
Earlier this year, Palme d’Or-winning director Steven Soderbergh’s first Netflix film High Flying Bird was released on Netflix. It, a great film about the intersection of sports and business, is still one of the best surprises of the year. The Laundromat, Soderbergh’s second Netflix feature film, was a film that I was looking forward to, for quite some time, due to the director and the cast. Based on the premise, the filmmaker, and the cast, I thought this was going to be one of the most interesting films of the year. Unfortunately, The Laundromat, a playful but tired biographical drama, is interesting for all the wrong reasons.
Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat is a drama about the Panama Papers scandal structured similarly to how Adam McKay’s The Big Short was structured. There are title cards expressing various so-called ‘secrets,’ and there are these sequences where characters break the fourth wall to explain a concept that may be difficult to grasp. These explanations are given by the co-founders of Mossack Fonseca (played by Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas), a significant law firm that shut down following the release of the so-called Panama Papers. Though there are other stories told in Soderbergh’s film, The Laundromat mostly focuses on the experiences of the character Ellen Martin (played by Meryl Streep). Martin’s husband tragically died on their dream vacation, and when the insurance settlement left a lot to be desired, she started to investigate shell companies. This investigation eventually led her to Panama City.
Meryl Streep is both the best and worst thing about Soderbergh’s latest film. When Streep is at her best she captures our attention like few others can. Indeed, there are moments here when Streep showcases her exceptional talent. Streep is very good as Ellen Martin, her character’s arc could be engrossing, but Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns (The Bourne Ultimatum) fail to complete the character’s story in a satisfying way, and they also fail to tie her story together with the other narratives present in The Laundromat.
When Soderbergh put the most marketable actors in The Laundromat in the film’s final scene for the purpose of communicating the entertainment text’s message, he does it with misguided confidence. At this point, we have not been sufficiently educated about the scandal, and the film feels incomplete. Nevertheless, Soderbergh has instructed Meryl Streep to soliloquize while removing whatever material disguised Streep as a Latin-American secretary who Streep plays with a thick accent that may offend viewers. It is a misguided stunt to cast her as this other character. Not only is it potentially offensive, but it’s also incredibly distracting. I found this final scene to be so distracting, in fact, that I lost focus of whatever monologue she was delivering.
Similarly, Gary Oldman, another seasoned and respected actor, is miscast as Jürgen Mossack. Oldman’s unnatural German accent is so thick that I suspect it may be like hearing nails on a chalkboard for some people. Banderas is charming but his smug character and his performance are nothing to write home about. The star-studded cast, which also includes Matthias Schoenaerts, David Schwimmer, Sharon Stone, and Jeffrey Wright, is, for the most part, under-utilized and playing characters that are underwritten.
Playful but never energetic or entertaining, Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat is a tedious and tired drama that almost makes Adam McKay’s The Big Short, of which this film is basically an imitation, look like a masterpiece. Ultimately, the film feels episodic and it never really comes together satisfyingly. This is a case in which the film feels both unfocused and incomplete. The film’s final monologue — and, in length, Soderbergh’s final message — is bungled by the aforementioned baffling Meryl Streep stunt, and the film doesn’t entertain us or educate us on the subject matter sufficiently.
4 out of 10
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.