James Clay // Film Critic
TORONTO – Steven Soderbergh is a director that will not conform to dull narrative practices. The virtuoso filmmaker is all over the place with his latest, THE LAUNDROMAT. But it kind of works. The speedy comedy works as a rededication for 2016 Panama Papers leak.
The world of high stakes financial investments has Soderbergh playing in a familiar wheelhouse, like TRAFFIC and THE INFORMANT. It’s his approach that always finds a novel way of getting his message across. Think THE BIG SHORT, with a much goofier and lightning-fast sensibility. It’s a boorish topic ramped up to cast a wide net that will spark outrage with working-class Americans.
THE LAUNDROMAT is split up into five interconnected chapters – and actors Meryl Streep, Antonio Banderas, Gary Oldman, Sharon Stone, and Jeffrey Wright duck in and out of each story. Most importantly, they make each story relatable. They don’t all necessarily cross paths, but it’s a cause and effect that triggers each other’s actions.
We’re introduced to the story by a couple of welcoming hosts, Jürgen Mossack (Gary Oldman with a super fun German accent) and Ramón Fonseca (Antonio Banderas, who’s killing it this year). They explain way too much banking jargon that flies over your head. These aren’t the good guys. They are ruthless crooks who have coopted banking loopholes to dodge their taxes. Jürgen and Ramón make millions of dollars in offshore accounts, and blue-collar America picks up the tab.
Although Soderbergh employs snappy visuals to accompany Jürgen and Ramón’s voice-overs (to make it easily digestible), it’s the characterizations that bring this gonzo tale back down to reality. Poor Ellen Martin (Streep) is our access point when she’s fallen victim to a lousy insurance scam that robs her of a healthy life insurance policy. The mild-mannered woman goes on her own misadventures towards the truth. She just wasn’t quite aware of the hornet’s nest she’s about to uncover. Don’t let the granny glasses fool you; this woman has a bite. Streep is having a field day with this role. She totes a shotgun and has a hidden cameo performance, and Soderbergh gives the legend a fourth-wall-breaking monologue that brings the film to a chin-stroking conclusion.
THE LAUNDROMAT has a sophisticated subject matter that’s dressed up with a snazzy presentation that can’t help to be pleased with its own existence. Some viewers may find the narrative’s whiplash exhausting at only 97 minutes. You have to love Soderbergh for trying things that other filmmakers wouldn’t dare. Warts and all, he completely breaks narrative rules – and this film has a pungent message that’s well crafted and risky. Soderbergh, please, never stop being you.
THE LAUNDROMAT premiered at Toronto International Film Festival. Encore screenings will be held on September 13 and 14. Visit tiff.net for more information. The film will be released by Netflix in theaters on September 27, and will be available through the streaming service on October 18.