Film review: The Laundromat (2019)

In 2016 there was the explosive leak to the ICIJ (International Consortium of Investigate Journalists) of a massive trove of documents called the Panama Papers from the firm Mossack Fonseca that revealed how that company created massive numbers of offshore shell companies to move money around all over the world to hide the wealth of the global elite so that they could avoid paying taxes. It led to a series of news reports (see here, here, and here) that showed that this was just the tip of the iceberg, that there were many legal and accounting firms operating in small and big countries around the world who were taking advantage of convenient loopholes placed in the tax codes of thosecountries. The US turns out to be one of the biggest tax havens, with the state of Delaware (Joe Biden’s home state, incidentally) being the most accommodating of all these shenanigans.

The tax avoidance strategies of the global oligarchy are complicated by deliberate design so as to evade detection, and reading about them can cause the eyes of ordinary people to glaze over. Stephen Soderbergh has now directed a new film that focuses on what was revealed about Mossack Fonseca to show how these tax avoidance and money laundering schemes worked. It was released on Friday on Netflix. It is based on real events and uses those stories to expose the corruptness of the system. It stars Meryl Streep as a woman whose husband dies in an accident while on a sightseeing boat. The boat company had thought it was insured but discovers that the insurance company that had underwritten their business was part of an elaborate shell network. In investigating this, Streep starts peeling back the layers. Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas play Mossack and Fonseca and frequently break the fourth wall, speaking directly to the audience, explaining how the fraud works. Soderbergh uses this hybrid documentary and feature film style to try to bring a dry but important topic to life with humor.

The ICIJ reports that Mossack and Fonseca are suing Netflix for defamation and tried to stop the film from being released.

n a US lawsuit filed on Tuesday, Jurgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca say The Laundromat, in which they are respectively played by Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas, portrays them as “ruthless uncaring lawyers who are involved in money laundering, tax evasion, bribery and/or other criminal conduct” and ask the court to stop it from being screened.

In documents filed to the court they say the release of the film is likely to subject them to “additional bail and/or conditions for each new crime imputed to them in the movie” in Panama, where they are set to go on trial on charges related to the law firm.

Mossack and Fonseca complain that the trailer for the film, which also stars Meryl Streep as a woman who has lost her husband in a boat accident, makes them out to be “villains profiting from the death of 20 people killed in the small town boat tour”.

Four people associated with the firm are also being charged in US courts for tax avoidance

Here’s the trailer.


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