If, at the start of the year, you were asked which Steven Soderbergh project sounded more exciting between ‘the one shot entirely on an iPhone’ and ‘the one starring Meryl Streep’, then it would have been understandable if you’d picked The Laundromat (Streep) over High Flying Bird (iPhone). Yet, such assumptions could not have turned out to be less correct, The Laundromat every bit as dull and smug as High Flying Bird was witty and involving.
Following various threads of individuals connected to the Panama Papers scandal, The Laundromat takes a The Big Short-esque approach of having narrators talk directly at the audience about all the high-falutin’ financial mumbo-jumbo that goes into securing wealth for the already wealthy. In this case it’s Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas, as Jurgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca, the real-life shady lawyers at the centre of the scandal.
Oldman and Banderas are clearly having an absolute blast, particularly Oldman with a hilariously broad German accent, and whenever they’re on screen in their absurd glittering suits, The Laundromat is at least quite funny. But the film jumps about to so many places that there’s no involvement in any of them – some are fun, mostly down to a range of enjoyably over-the-top performances, but a lot are bland, especially an excursion to China that stops the film absolutely dead.
But it’s the finale that really grates, one final joke at the expense of the audience that renders the whole exercise pointless and ends with one of the most embarrassing final shots of the year.
Even as the ostensible lead, Streep only makes a faint impression. The Laundromat has no idea what story it wants to tell, nor how sincerely it wants to tell it, and isn’t half as much fun to watch as it clearly was to make.
CAST: Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, Jeffrey Wright, Nonso Anozie, David Schwimmer
DIRECTOR: Steven Soderbergh
WRITERS: Scott Z Burns (screenplay), Jake Bernstein (book – Secrecy World)
SYNOPSIS: A widow investigates an insurance fraud, chasing leads to a pair of Panama City law partners exploiting the world’s financial system.