The Laundromat – The Wolves of Panama

Introduced in the official selection at the Venice Mostra, Soderbergh’s dark comedy makes fun of the lawyer practice at the heart of the Panama Papers, while trying to initiate us to the system of fiscal paradises. 

By Lisa Muratore

Reading time 3 min.

The Laundromat


Some laundromats are used to launder money. But in 2016, the Panama Papers leak in the press opened the doors the biggest dollar bills laundromat. These documents revealed the controversial (but legal) practices of the Panamean law practice Mossack-Fonséca for their rich clients, who used fake corporations to escape taxes.

Following his partnership with Netflix, for which he already directed High Flying Bird the insatiable Steven Soderbergh goes bak to one of his …. Themes : money and how to get it. Wether it is through the hold-ups of the biggest casinos in the Ocean trilogy or through meticulous investigations on the drug market (Traffic, 2000) or the agri-food industry (The Informant ! , 2009). With The Laundromat, Soderbergh takes us into the most elusive of markets : the one of financial rigging and fiscal paradise.

Soderbergh explores the porous frontier between truth and lies, a common ground between fiction and finance.

The farce of the century
Using all the devices of cinema, the movies begins with Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas introducing the theme of the movie in a long sequence shot, irrationally going from a desert to the dark atmosphere of a club. They portray Jürgen Mossak and Ramon Fonseca, the two cynical lawyers who will narrate the case. They give out to the viewer basic information on the mechanisms of the scam, while wearing glittery tuxedos and a sardonic expression. They break the fourth wall, a process reminiscent of Jordan Belfort’s voice-over in The Wolf of Wall Street or the educational footages with Margot Robbie or Selena Gomez in The Big Short, but without totally capturing their voracious energy. We cross path with Charlize Theron as a background real-estate agent, Jeffrey Wright as a shady insurer and Matthias Schoenaerts as a greedy businessman. Everyone unveiling this vast branched fraud system.

A political movie
Facing them, the amazing Meryl Streep symbolizes the « humble ». Widowed after a boat accident, she realizes that the insurance company that was supposed to compensate her after the death of her husband is a shell company created by Mossack-Fonseca and based in Virgin Islands. During a demonstrative final monologue, the actress gets rid of her wigs, while we realize most settings were made out of cardboard and that we are in a cinema studio, like a metaphor of this fake and virtual financial system. Soderbergh explores the porous frontier between truth and lies, a common ground between fiction and finance.

The director tackles the United-States (which are going after exotic fiscal paradises and let Delaware or Nevada have exactly the same practices on their ground). He tackles himself ( admitting having owned five companies mentioned in the « Panama Papers », while he scenarist also had one) but abstains from bringing up the case of his diffuser (Netflix, accused of not paying taxes in Europe because of a branch bases in the Caïman Islands). Nobody is perfect!

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