This Steven Soderbergh Netflix drama was a well-intentioned, ambitious, high-concept attempt at explaining the Panama Papers, a highly unscrupulous international scheme that made scammers filthy rich at the expense of ordinary, trusting people. Soderbergh attempted to dive into these dense waters by following the stories of several people impacted by money-laundering shell corporations, the whole thing “narrated” by two gleeful scumbags (played by Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas) who had made out like bandits.
Streep was cast as an older woman whose husband drowned in a boating accident — but the boat company’s insurance was tied to these international schemers through a nauseating labyrinth of shell corporations, leaving it impossible to collect. Streep’s performance was very impressive, including a powerful ending where she reveals that she had been playing a second character all along in plain sight — then strips off the facade in one long take, stepping out of character and appealing for reform as Streep herself, striking a pose like the Statue of Liberty.
It was the kind of epic, complicated monologue that you could only imagine Meryl Streep pulling off. But was it wasted on a movie that didn’t seem to be nearly as competent elsewhere?
In Their Own League’s Nicole Ackman said the movie “clearly plays off of the style of movies like ‘The Big Short,’ but unfortunately is nowhere near its clarity, thoroughness, or artistry.” Vulturehound’s Andrew Gaudion said “It’s different and may work for some, but ultimately ‘The Laundromat’ drops the ball as a piece of cinema that strives to make a complicated situation feel tangible, devastating and perhaps most importantly, human.”
The end of the film was particularly polarizing. When Streep revealed that she was not only playing the widow Ellen, but also Elena, a secretary at a law office in Panama that aided the money laundering, the artifice struck some as too precious for its own good. Alonso Duralde of The Wrap said “Whatever emotional resonance Streep achieves as an angry widow is undone by the decision to cast her as a Mossack Fonseca secretary, complete with enormous fake nose and ridiculous Spanish voice. It’s a jarring bit of show-offery from a performer who should be above such flash.”