As they continue to build their brand in the world of prestige filmmaking, it makes sense that Netflix would want an answer to The Big Short. A fiery and much loved look at how the elite financial class screwed the world over, Adam McKay’s film entertained and educated, giving genuinely new insight on the 2007 financial crash to audiences who had simply never had it explained that well to them before. Tackling the Panama Papers scandal, Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat employs similar tricks to The Big Short, with narrators talking directly to camera and a scattergun, almost sketch show approach to story. Yet, where the 2015 film balanced its smugness with a heartfelt rage and some real humanity, The Laundromat ends up as an exercise in self-satisfied blandness.
Though Meryl Streep gets top billing as a woman attempting to unravel an insurance scam following the death of her husband on a pleasure cruise, it’s Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas who guide us through this world of tax avoidance and shell companies. Playing real life lawyers Jurgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca, whose firm was the source of the Panama Papers leaks, they’re clearly having an absolute blast in these fourth wall-breaking roles, particularly Oldman, who gets to play around with a hilariously broad German accent.
Whenever they’re on screen together, The Laundromat is an entertaining watch, but Scott Z Burns’s script is monumentally unfocused, zipping you around the world constantly with no time to care about anything that’s happening. Some of these mini-stories are fun, mainly thanks to the enjoyably over the top comic performances of talented actors like Jeffrey Wright and Nonso Anozie, but just as many are boring and bland. Most egregious is an extended excursion to China (featuring Matthias Schoenaerts in an utterly unconvincing role as a British businessman) that stops the film dead in its tracks.
It’s not long after this interminable skit comes to an end that The Laundromat reaches its conclusion, which is one final joke at the expense of the viewer. Destroying the last remaining shreds of investment you may have in its world and capping it all off with one of the most embarrassing final shots you’ll see all year, it’s simply exasperating. There are some good bits throughout the first half of The Laundromat, but you’ll forget all of them in the tiring slog that makes up the rest of it.