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“The Laundromat” Is A Disappointing Misfire From Steven Soderbergh

The pairing of Scott Z Burns and Steven Soderbergh is usually a very promising one. Unfortunately, for their fourth collaboration, the writer and the director are way off of the mark. The Laundromat attempts to combine some of the methods of their previous team ups, but this would be satirical comedy/expose falls incredibly flat. Initially pegged as a potential Academy Award vehicle for Netflix, this should instead just have a final resting place buried among the streaming service’s movie options, where it actually is hitting today. Burns’ own impending outing The Report is tremendous, while Soderbergh even had another Netflix effort earlier this year in High Flying Bird that was spectacular. This one just doesn’t measure up.

The film is a look at the lead up to and leaking of the 2016 Panama Papers publication, which revealed a huge money laundering scheme by a Panama City law firm to help the world’s richest individuals. At the start, we’re explained the concept of money and even their scheme by the firm’s partners Jürgen Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Ramón Fonseca (Antonio Banderas). Shell companies and offshore accounts become casual language. It’s a whole secret world that regular folks don’t know about. However, when Ellen Martin (Meryl Streep) loses her husband in an accident, she begins investigating a fake insurance policy that didn’t pay out what she was owed. What follows is a rabbit hole of secrecy, leading to Mossack and Fonseca. Other characters check in from time to time, but largely this is Ellen’s quest, with Mossack and Fonseca acting as a greek chorus of sorts. Soderbergh directs an adaptation by Burns, with the former’s alter ego Peter Andrews handling cinematography (Soderbergh edits too), while David Holmes composed the score. Supporting players include James Cromwell, Will Forte, Chris Parnell, Robert Patrick, Melissa Rauch, Matthias Schoenaerts, David Schwimmer, Sharon Stone, Larry Wilmore, Jeffrey Wright, and more.

So little works here. The structure is muddled, the characters are bland, and the point being made is so thin, it doesn’t warrant its own existence. Then, there’s the matter of the second character Streep plays. Mild spoiler to follow. Beyond Ellen Martin, Streep is playing a Panamanian woman, with a thick, almost cartoonish, accent. At the end, she reveals it’s her all along, during an earnest monologue, but it comes off as a huge gimmick. It’s hard to figure out what Burns, Soderbergh, and Streep were thinking here. You kind of get what they were going for, but it all gets lost in the wash, as it were.

The Laundromat could have been a biting satire from these two creative giants. Burns and Soderbergh have tackled comedy before with The Informant!, an epic worldwide story with Contagion, and even genre fare with Side Effects. All three are solid to very strong flicks. Here, however, this is so mediocre, you’re shocked who’s involved here. Sure, Banderas and Oldman are having some fun, but what did Streep see in this? Burns and Soderbergh seem to be trying to pull off their version of The Big Short, but somehow, it turns out Soderbergh is not up to the level that Adam McKay was playing on. Perhaps a more serious take would have been beneficial?

As of today, anyone interested in seeing this movie can check it out on Netflix. The streaming behemoth has way better titles contending for Oscar love this year, so it’s purely a curiosity. The film isn’t overtly bad, but it’s so mediocre that frustration will undoubtedly set in for audience members before too long. Burns and Soderbergh waste a baity premise, an A list cast, and the chance to do something different. Truly, it’s a real shame to witness.

The Laundromat is now streaming on Netflix.

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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