Venice 2019: Soderbergh's Ingenious Money Satire 'The Laundromat'
by Alex Billington
September 1, 2019
Welcome to Steven Soderbergh's history class. Today we will be learning about the history of money, and how our obsession with it has gotten seriously out of hand. Steven Soderbergh's latest feature film, titled The Laundromat, is an ingenious social commentary based around the Panama Papers and the terrifying truths they revealed. Following in the footsteps of The Big Short, this fourth-wall-breaking comedy / drama / satire / educational film / cautionary tale features a brilliant script written by Scott Z. Burns (of The Informant!, Contagion, Side Effects, The Mercy, The Report) that borrows heavily from Adam McKay's film in style and structure. It's essentially a film about the despicable men behind Mossack Fonseca, but it shows us a number of parables to remind us all just how much trickery, greed, corruption, and bullshit is out there.
Soderbergh's The Laundromat stars Gary Oldman as Jürgen Mossack, and Antonio Banderas as Ramón Fonseca, allowing them to narrate and talk directly to the camera throughout, telling "their side of the story" about what happened with them being indicted after the Panama Papers were released. From there, we're also introduced to Meryl Streep playing Ellen Martin, a woman who loses her husband in a tragic accident at the start and spends the rest of the movie experiencing first hand the amount of corruption and financial deception that is prevalent in all aspects of the world - from receiving money from the insurance company, to buying a condo to live out the rest of her life and remember where she first met her husband. The film then dips off into various parable vignettes to tell stories about how horrible the people involved in this are.
Similar in tone to the Coen Brothers' anthology of parables, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, this film features side stories that not only tell us more about how financial secrets & tricks benefit the wealthy, but remind us that these are not good people no matter what excuses they want to use. Some of the side stories are better than others, and some of them he spends a bit too much time with even though there's not much being said. They start to feel a bit distant when all I want to do is get back to the main characters (Oldman, Banderas, Streep) and follow them to the truth, with the hope that by the end they'll get what's coming to them. The framing and the storytelling techniques used throughout are still amusing and captivating enough to make this an easy film to watch, even though it's dealing with very real, very heavy subject matter about how many people's lives are ruined because of the greed of a few. It even opens with a hilarious setup explaining the concept of "money" to give us a basic understanding of why society is the way it is now (for better or worse).
By now, we all know that Steven Soderbergh is an indisputably talented filmmaker who can do pretty much everything himself - write, direct, edit, work as the cinematographer, producer, or any other production job. All he needs is a damn good script, and he can bring that script to life on the big screen in an effective way, and put it all together as engaging, fascinating entertainment. And this film is just that - a near-perfect film based on a brilliant script that hits very hard regarding just how bad greed is and how America, of course, is where all this trickery and corruption and evasion begins. And even though some of the stories in this are weaker than others, it's such a refreshing and important work of necessary social commentary that I can't help love it anyway. And all the lively performances throughout make it sing. It's the truth we need to hear.
Alex's Venice 2019 Rating: 8 out of 10
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