Saturday 19 March 2022

Movie Review: The Laundromat (2019)

A mildly satirical comedy anthology, The Laundromat features loosely related mini-stories inspired by the murky and bizarre world of off-shore tax havens.

Lawyers Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Fonseca (Antonio Baderas) speak directly to the camera. They explain how their Panama-based law firm helps wealthy clients avoid taxes through layers of shell companies registered in tax haven countries, and run by pay-per-signature Caribbean-based "directors".

Three stories explore the industry's different angles. In New York, Ellen Martin (Meryl Streep) loses her husband in a tour boat accident that claims 21 lives. The owners of the tour boat company discover that their cheaply-purchased insurance coverage is fraudulent. Ellen learns the fraudsters are hiding beneath shell companies and impossible to track. Meanwhile, a Las Vegas condominium Ellen was hoping to purchase is snapped up by shady Russians paying in cash.

African billionaire Charles is cheating on his wife, and his daughter Simone catches him in the act. He tries to placate her by gifting her control of a shell company worth millions. But a surprise awaits both Simone and her mom.

British businessman Maywood (Matthias Schoenaerts) is in China, trying to blackmail corrupt businesswoman Gu Kailai (Rosalind Chao) into creating another shell company for his benefit. They are both in danger as China clamps down on corruption.

Inspired by real events and the Panama Papers revelations, enough spot-the-star talent features in The Laundromat to avoid a total loss. Director Steven Soderbergh can attract a quality cast, and minor roles are populated by notables like James Cromwell, Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick, Jeffrey Wright, and David Schwimmer.

But otherwise this is a half-hearted and never convincing effort to cinematically expose the lawyers, bankers, shell companies, and shady characters helping the rich avoid taxes. While 2015's The Big Short aced the combination of explaining and exposing the mortgage crisis complexities from multiple perspectives, here writer Scott Z. Burns simply flounders with dead-ended narrative fragments.

The start is strong enough, and the boating tragedy and subsequent non-insurance debacle shows promise. But even this plot meanders into a tangential real estate sub-story before being summarily abandoned in favour of the tired soap-opera featuring Charles' family. The third story in China drops in without context or purpose. 

Soderbergh loses further focus by steering towards poorly explained links between tax shelters and the need for campaign finance reform, a topic unrelated to any of the vignettes. As the narrative thrust fizzles, The Laundromat concludes with embarrassing straight-to-the-audience preachiness, landing with a hollow clank.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome reader comments about this post.