THE LAUNDROMAT – Review
Review by Stephen Tronicek
Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat makes a damning case for why the filmmaker is starting to become outdated. Slick, cool, and progressive in 1989, Soderbergh broke onto the scene with sex, lies and a videotape. That film is a fantastic work, one that stood out with a risque but honest view of sexuality. Nowadays, it’s still effective but the veneer of that honesty has worn slightly thin. Maybe part of Soderbergh is stuck in 1989.
Now, of course we can’t just blame him. The Laundromat, written by Scott Z. Burns (responsible for a few good Soderbergh movies and this year’s The Report) is ill conceived from the get go. Following a mystery that never gets solved, Meryl Streep does her best to give life to Ellen Martin, a woman whose husband died on a cruise boat. The aftermath lead her to an offshore scheme that bled her of any of the settlement money that could give her some type of closure. The managers of that scheme? Jurgen Mossat (Gary Oldman) and Ramon Fronseca (Antonio Banderas), two Panama lawyers keeping many billionaires money safe.
Where The Laundromat goes wrong is that for all the talk of the meek inheriting the earth and the importance of financial reform, the view of the filmmaker and writer seems to be on the side of the wealthy that have put us in this position. Ellen is a wealthy woman who never suffers the consequences of what happened. Mossak and Fonseca, are framed charmingly and straightforward. The film upon multiple occasions tells you, “This is simply the way the world works”…and yet there never seems a shred of empathy for anybody. Nobody actually gets out of this unscathed…not even the director. Oldman and Banderas smile and tell us that, “…the director of this film has 5 (offshore) type accounts,” and expect us to be fascinated. I’m not. You just gave me the middle finger and asked me to clap for you.
This is exacerbated by the scope of the script. Burns and Soderbergh frame the financial woes of the world through certain vignettes: one taking place in a small island firm, one taking place at the villa of an adulterous millionaire, and one taking place in China (the implications of which are even more disturbing when you see how nationalistic it seems). Each of these are nihilistic exercises, showing the horrible nature of man, but not are engaging or ironic in anyway. Soderbergh’s (Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard) dryest photography and editing in ages assures that everything is presented as flatly as possible, adding no nuance to the proceedings. By the time the movie is over, it’s like somebody has but a bag over your senses wiping them out.
…and that’s before you get to the call to action. The ending of the film is Streep stripping out of brownface and asking us to accept the artifice of the movie. She says to the camera that financial reform must come to the country and that we’ll all suffer if it doesn’t. She then assumes the pose of the statue of Liberty, holding a copy of the script.
This sequence is the biggest middle finger of them all. The creatives first show us their capacity for racism, then tell us their intentions are good…but their not. Afterall, Soderbergh has, “…five of these accounts.” Is this satire? I suppose. It sat wrong with me though and made me rethink the flawed legacy of Steven Soderbergh.
He might have been slick, cool, and progressive then…but the hollowness of his approach is starting to show.
1/2 of 1 Stsr out of 4
THE LAUNDROMAT is playing in St. Louis exclusively at The Hi-Pointe Backlot