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New Dark Comedy ‘The Laundromat’ Depicts Panama Papers Scandal

The Laundromat by Steven Soderbergh
A widow (Meryl Streep) investigates an insurance fraud, chasing leads to a pair of Panama City law partners (Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas) exploiting the world’s financial system. Steven Soderbergh directs. (Photo: Netflix)

“When people are laughing, they’re more open to taking on an idea than when they’re not” – Steven Soderbergh on his new film The Laundromat

The new dark comedy film, The Laundromat, depicts a real-life scandal that exposed how the rich can exploit secretive offshore tax regimes. Dubbed “The Panama Papers,” the scandal involved over 140 politicians including twelve national leaders, along with celebrities, drug dealers, alleged arms traffickers, and the global elite from around the world.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven), the new film has been compared to 2015’s The Big Short, another Hollywood film that depicted a major financial conspiracy. An exposé on unmitigated greed and exploitation of the working class, the new film stars Oscar winners Meryl Streep and Gary Oldman, along with Antonio Banderas and Sharon Stone.

Streep portrays an unassuming retiree who becomes widowed after a freak boating accident. She then finds that the cruise company’s supposedly solid insurance policy is actually a ruse, with links to shady corporate entities in the Caribbean. Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas portray the founders of the law firm Mossack Fonseca, at the center of a long-running fraudulent storm.

Mossack Fonseca was a little-known but powerful law firm based in Panama. In 2016, their shady dealings were unearthed by a whistleblower who released more than 11 million documents from them, which traced back 40 years and involved 35 locations around the world.

Details revealed how myriad shell companies and holding entities helped the world’s richest individuals avoid tax payment through various schemes such as obscuring their wealth (legally and illegally) and engaging in questionable business deals through hard-to-trace companies and tax havens.

The firm’s founders, Jürgen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca, were arrested on charges of money laundering in February 2017. They were later released, although criminal investigations continue. The firm closed its doors in April 2018.

The investigation of the Panama Papers was one of the largest collaborations of journalists in history, resulting in securing the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting. The journalistic collaboration included more than 300 reporters on six continents. Their efforts would lead to the recovery of more than $1.2 billion in back-taxes and penalties around the world.

Although the subject matter seems unlikely material for a humorous new film, director Soderbergh believes that his interpretation may help audiences understand the case more.

“When people are laughing, they’re more open to taking on an idea than when they’re not,” Soderbergh explained. “If we can entertain people and amuse them, then we can throw a lot of information at them and maybe some of it will stick.”

The Laundromat opened in theaters September 27 and will stream on Netflix October 18.

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