Movie Review: The Laundromat
The Laundromat is in the grand scheme of things about the Panama Papers, which revealed many incredibly wealthy people were using shell companies and off shore accounts as tax havens. In the smaller sense it is about a middle class retiree attempting to understand how her husband's death is passed from shell to shell to shell, until no real company comes forward to claim the full responsibility. It stars Meryl Streep, Antonio Banderas, Gary Oldman, and a whole host of others doing cameos. It is directed by Steven Soderbergh.
I strongly dislike this trend in message cinema that kicked off hard with The Big Short, where an actor or narrator breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to its audience. The Laundromat is no exception to this strong dislike and as much as I knew that going in, I still wanted for it to be bookends and not throughout. It's throughout. It's pervasive, irritating, patronizing, and wholly unnecessary.
I may not understand or know all of the ludicrous ways the ultra rich avoid, evade, and ignore taxes, but I don't need someone telling me about it in a tongue in cheek way. Especially not Gary Oldman with a German accent (seriously, they couldn't have hired Christoph Waltz?). All this information should come from the players. It should come from the narrative. If the characters like Streep's Ellen or Schwimmer's Matthew don't understand what's going on, that's great, neither do we, but we can learn as they do.
This film would have been better served as a documentary. Either the narrative is intruding on the infuriating information or the information tears us from what could evoke genuine pathos. Though, the filmmakers likely realized as studios who produce them every year, no one watches documentaries in great numbers, but put Meryl Streep in a wig with emotional moments and you have eyeballs on your information.
The information is distributed in different vignette like structures. They're little episodes that show how global and pervasive this virus is. Yet, unlike Soderbergh's other works, Traffic and Contagion being two of the best examples, The Laundromat fails to connect these stories by anything more than the thinnest of threads. It's hard to care about the Chinese politician, the cheating African business man, or the West Indian accountant with two families because they're so far removed from the average audience. The most intriguing storyline is the most prevalent, but it's still reliant on the intrusion of the two fourth wall breaking lawyers.
I would love if this film could focus in. That is the problems with films like this, they pull focus from a narrative because they need to make an angry joke about the overall issue, but what's most important is in that narrative. I hate to keep comparing Soderbergh's works together, but with all the Soderberghian flourish this film has under its belt, it fails to capture what makes his other films excellent. He fails to keep the story on the little guy like in Erin Brokovitch, he fails to maintain a style that sets a mood like in Unsane, and he fails to charm us with his leads like in Ocean's 11.
The Laundromat is about the reality that the system is entirely in the 1%'s favor, but like the other films of its ilk, it far favors style, cheekiness, and sly commentary over bringing the audience into a story they could empathize. What the filmmakers ask us to do is shake our head at the audacity of the narrators and claim, "Well, they got us," to get us mad about what they did, but I have to believe more people come out of this thinking, "How can I get a piece?" Rather than taking the blunt message at the end, delivered by an out of character, fully herself Meryl Streep to the ballot box, it's just gave us 90 minutes where there are no dire consequences to this kind of life. Why do we care about the clowns in D.C. when they can make us as rich as these guys if we slip them a fiver in return? I don't recommend this film to anyone. I recommend we all take a step back and look at where the money's going and why we struggle while a small few thrive.