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by Vikram Murthi
Ever the productive workhorse, Steven Soderbergh has released two movies on Netflix this year. The first: High Flying Bird, a sharply scripted drama set behind the scenes at the NBA that follows a canny sport agent whose end game is to shift the financial power from white owners to black players, i.e. to seize the means (or balls) of production. The second: The Laundromat, a Big Short-style anthology film about the Panama Papers leak that explains the proliferation of offshore bank accounts and tax havens, specifically those provided by the firm Mossack Fonseca, and follows the victims of these global financial crimes. Both films are the latest entries in Soderbergh’s anti-capitalist critiques, which accounts for most of his post-00s output, that seek to shine a light on economic inequality and profile the human actors perpetrating it and those fighting against it.
Laundromat - Soderbergh - Wall - Malfeasance - Mossack
However, The Laundromat features Soderbergh at his most direct, breaking the fourth wall to cheekily justify financial malfeasance, as told by Mossack and Fonseca themselves (Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas, respectively), and generate outrage from the groundlings about how systemic corruption trickles down to the lowest rungs. It’s a rare agit-prop move from a filmmaker who prefers to filter ideology entirely through narrative instead of making blunt appeals. The film’s last shot in particular pushes Soderbergh and writer Scott Burns’ considerable anger front and center, stripping away the artifice and humor to shake the audience into awareness, hoping they’ll come away with something more than a good time.
I spoke to Soderbergh at the Toronto International Film Festival about the difficulties of making The Laundromat, his return to the Red after two projects shooting on an iPhone, implicating himself in the film and how corruption, next to climate change, is the greatest threat facing humanity.
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