Starring: Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Running Time: 96 mins
The Laundromat is an American film about the story of a woman who searches for the source of an insurance fraud following the untimely death of her husband, leading her to the complex and shady world of offshore banking, and two flamboyant lawyers at the head of a major operation in Panama.
Apart from the fact that, just three years after the Panama Papers leaks, a full Hollywood movie was written and produced, The Laundromat is a rather unremarkable and disappointing film. Despite an A-list cast and the potential for passionate anti-establishment themes, it’s a messy movie that fails to hit the mark as a result of painful narrative inconsistencies, poor humour and a misguided dramatic focus that reduces its emotional potential immeasurably.
There’s a lot that unfortunately doesn’t work about The Laundromat, but let’s take a brief look at the positives, most of which can be found in the film’s far more grounded, and as such far more engaging and powerful opening act.
Looking at the plight of a woman (Meryl Streep) who, after becoming the victim of a phony insurance company used as a front for offshore holdings, The Laundromat actually gets off to quite a striking and even thought-provoking start, looking directly at the effects of the phenomenon of tax avoidance and offshore banking on ordinary individuals.
With a look at the unfortunate and even heartbreaking struggles of an honest woman falling victim to this phenomenon after the death of her husband, the film has clear and engaging themes from the start, and with a slightly tongue-in-cheek but perfectly appropriate use of dark humour as well, it’s an engaging and eye-opening start to the movie that seems to set up for a fantastic look at the clash between the dishonest upper classes and the honest working classes.
Frustratingly, however, The Laundromat randomly decides about forty minutes in that that story isn’t enough to hold your attention, and although the woman’s search for justice does start to run aground at a point late in the first half of the movie, it’s no excuse for the bizarre change of direction the film takes.
Shifting from the engaging and clear thematic focus on class divide and the clear immorality and injustice of tax avoidance and offshore banking to simply looking at and in some cases mocking those guilty, The Laundromat loses all of its dramatic poignance, and with a painfully jarring narrative twist that’s both cheap and underwhelming, it falls apart in appalling fashion in the latter half.
Playing out through its second act with a couple of stories that relate to its main political subject matter, the film loses all narrative consistency, coming across as an entirely different movie to the clever and impressively grounded one that it started off as.
Couple that with the fact that it has a really underwhelming sense of humour where none of the outright jokes hit the mark – only the clever, subtle dark humour of the opening act really works – and The Laundromat becomes a real damp squib in its latter half, floundering in a pool of narrative mess that feels a million miles away from its far more competent start.
Director Steven Soderbergh badly misjudges what works well about his own film, taking away the poignance and instead placing more emphasis on a brand of humour and more direct political criticism, a style that not only doesn’t work very well, but is dull and at times even annoying to watch, and brings the film to a painfully disappointing conclusion.
The Laundromat’s A-list cast may do their best to salvage what is ultimately a mess of a screenplay, and Meryl Streep’s grounded and reserved turn is excellent in the early stages (far better than her rather cheap and forced secondary performance), while Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas offer up the odd chuckle with their rather overplayed turns as Mossack and Fonseca, founders of the company at the centre of the Panama Papers, even if there’s little in the way of real character intrigue to see from them.
Overall, The Laundromat is an unfortunate example of real wasted potential. Despite starting strongly with a dramatically engaging and politically poignant story, it takes a ridiculously misjudged shift in direction to something far more simplistic and far less effective, really missing out on the opportunity to hammer home both a clever and timely subject matter in entertaining and engrossing style, which is why I’m giving it a 6.6.