“Based on actual secrets,” the screen tells us. Based on the trailer, I sort of expected The Laundromat to be the Erin Brockovich of money laundering. It was not. It was actually just a weak and poor copy of The Big Short.
The Big Short was about the Wall Street crash of 2008, more or less, precipitated by the housing bubble. And how all that lending, and then speculating against those bad mortgages, really fucked a lot of good people over. That film wove together a narrative interspersed with attempts to break down financial concepts to the audience. A celebrity – cameos by Margot Robbie or Selena Gomez, for example – would break the fourth wall to address the audience directly, and explain textbook concepts, like subprime mortgages, to us in a way we could easily grasp. It was celebrated for its unconventional techniques, which helped secure it the Oscar for adopted screenplay.
You can’t really blame The Laundromat for trying to capitalize on its success, but when your success is based on novelty and innovation, you pretty much inherently can’t replicate it. To even try seems…lazy.
Meryl Streep stars as an old lady who goes on a pleasure cruise with her husband, played by James Cromwell. An errant wave hits them and the boat capsizes, killing 21. In the wake of the accident, it is discovered that the cruise company is without insurance. Not that they didn’t have any – they thought they did – but that their policy was bought by another company, and another, and possibly another, until all there were were shell companies and no real policy, no real insurers, and definitely no money for the victims of the accident.
But Meryl Streep’s portion of the film is just one third of what we’re ultimately presented with. The other stories are only loosely connected by a law firm that exists just to hide money for its obscenely wealthy companies. The lawyers, played by Antonio Banderas and Gary Oldman, serve not just as characters, but also as narrators who get to skip through all the scenes, breaking the fourth wall and revealing the film’s sets to be just that: sets. It’s all very meta. And while these characters are a lot of fun, it stinks so badly of The Big Short you can never quite forgive it, even when it’s entertaining.
Based on the Panama Papers leak, the movie tries to reveal even just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the rich getting richer: tax evasion, bribery, fraud, offshore accounts. But it’s sloppily assembled and is such a weak photocopy you can’t help but resent it outright. This is actually a very important issue that absolutely deserves our attention. But Steven Soderbergh just can’t pull this together, and in fact confuses the matter with his weird, episodic vignettes and title cards that just don’t add up. I’m just a lowly 99-percenter who pretends saving is optional and credit is use it or lose it. What do I know? Besides, you know, wanting my money back for this movie ticket.