Early reviews called it a bit of a misfire, though a well-intentioned and well-made one with a top-notch cast.
Based on Jake Bernstein’s book “Secrecy World,” this week’s Netflix-original The Laundromat seeks to turn a rather boring financial story – the revelation of what came to be labeled “The Panama Papers” – into high drama. The movie comes from director Steven Soderbergh and stars Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, Meryll Streep and a host of others.
Oldman and Banderas play, respectively, Jürgen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca, two highly-connected lawyers at the heart of the shady international dealings uncovered in the documents. Streep plays Ellen Martin, a woman who finds her life upended by the actions of the rich and powerful who take advantage of those “legal” services. Martin’s investigation uncovers just how corrupt the entire system is and how weighted against people like her it is.
Netflix has given the movie a brisk campaign that’s been heavy on festival screenings, trying to sell a whimsical comedic take on a very serious issue. While the 45% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes may not completely tank the film, it also bodes poorly for what should otherwise be a major fall streaming release, one that’s getting a brief theatrical release before it hits streaming next month.
A piggy bank wearing sunglasses stands on a pile of currency from various countries on the poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications), released in late August. That irreverent image is meant to convey the movie’s off-kilter humorous tone, setting the audience up for satire more than a straightforward drama.
Jurgen and Ramon are our guides through the first trailer (11.2 million views on YouTube), released in August during the Venice Film Festival. They establish the premise of the story, aimed at exposing parts of society that are rigged to favor the rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else. Ellen is on their trailer, piecing together clues that show how money and corruption are all tied together, and when secrets are exposed, a lot of people become very angry for their own reasons. It’s all presented as a caper flick, with a loose vibe that frames it as a lighthearted, if terrifying, glimpse behind the curtain.
Online and Social
No website, but Netflix did create a Twitter profile for the film in order to share photos, key press beats and more.
Advertising and Publicity
There had been lots of chatter about the movie but one of the first big moments in the publicity cycle came in late July when it was included in the “Special Presentations” section of this year’s Toronto Film Festival and in-competition at the Venice Film Festival. The TIFF appearance included a conversation with Banderas where he talked about this movie and his career in general. Reviews weren’t wholly positive, though, with some calling it a slight misfire by Soderbergh.
Media and Press
As festival season got underway, Soderbergh was interviewed about how he approached translating the real life story into a film that struck a slightly comedic tone.
An interview with Streep at the Venice premiere had the actress reinforcing that Soderbergh was using a darkly comic tone to highlight a very serious matter. Further interviews during Toronto allowed her to talk about working with Netflix and the darkly comic nature of the story.
Two short clips from the movie were shared via The Playlist in August.
It’s not exactly breaking new rhetorical ground to compare this movie to The Big Short, Adam McKay’s satirical analysis of the banking crisis that led to the 2008 recession. Purely from a marketing perspective, the biggest difference here is there’s clearly a framing device being communicated to the audience, namely the Greek Chorus that is the lawyers played by Banderas and Oldman.
That there’s so much time spent on that framing device, which is largely intended as a big old wink to the audience, that the actual story gets somewhat muddled. The marketing is so busy making sure everyone knows it’s a bit funny that it’s never clear what it is that’s meant to be humorous. You get that there’s some sort of investigation going on, but into what is never communicated.
A new, socially-relevant film from Soderbergh deserves a bit better than that. Fans of the director will likely be anxious to check it out, but there’s little here to generate the kind of discussion or soul-searching that may be needed to fully understand what happened.