Steven Soderbergh, Meryl Streep and Gary Oldman took to the dais this afternoon at the Venice Film Festival to talk with the press about The Laundromat. The film is a dark comedy that centers on the uncovering of the Panama Papers. Streep is a widow who investigates an insurance fraud which leads to Panama City law partners, Mossack & Fonseca, who are exploiting the world’s financial system by creating hundreds of thousands of shell companies to help the wealthy avoid paying taxes. The Netflix title is presented in a sort of anthology form that’s linked throughout by Oldman’s Jürgen Mossack and his partner Ramón Fonseca (Antonio Banderas).
To distill such a snaky web as the one revealed in the Panama Papers, Soderbergh and writer Scott Z Burns decided the best approach would be dark comedy. “It also gave us the opportunity to use the complexity of these financial activities almost as a joke,” the director said. “Otherwise, people would feel they were being educated instead of entertained.”
Still, the seriousness of the subject matter is not lost on anyone involved in the film. Said Streep, “This movie is fun and it’s funny, but it’s really, really, really important… We’re living in a moment when the news cycle is racing and we are racing to keep up with current events. This is a funny way to tell a black-hearted joke, a joke that’s been played on all of us. It is a crime not without victims and the victims, many of them are journalists. The reason the Panama Papers were exported out to the world was the work of journalists. People died because of this.”
Soderbergh added, “The system has to change… Along with climate change, this kind of corruption we’re discussing is the defining issue of this moment.”
Also at the press conference, Jake Bernstein, author of source book Secrecy World: Inside The Panama Papers Investigation Of Illicit Money Networks And The Global Elite, drove home a line from the film. “People think that a tax haven is a place that’s warm and sunny and has palm trees,” said Bernstein. “But one of the biggest tax havens in the world is America. Delaware is a factory for anonymous shell companies, something they fight zealously to protect. All kinds of malefactors are using Delaware companies to do terrible things.”
For Oldman — a self-declared binger — Netflix is the obvious platform for Laundromat. “When you’ve got something this serious you want to get that out to as many people. Back in the day, you might make a remarkable little movie that no one ever saw. Can art bring about change? Yeah, if people see it.”
Oldman said working with Soderbergh had been on his bucket list. He particularly praised how the filmmaker — who shoots and edits his own movies — paces a day.
Streep marveled of upcoming Soderberg collaboration Let Them All Talk, “Steven and I just finished a film in 13 days. He’s an artist for this time.”
Chimed in the director, “Advances in technology have allowed me to optimize a process that I felt wasn’t moving at the pace that was beneficial to the process. Now I can use the camera as a pen essentially and write it in real time. It’ better for me, not for everybody. I found through some unsuccessful endeavors that I work best when I have to work quickly.”
The Laundromat will get a 21-day U.S. and UK theatrical release on September 27, and goes to global streaming on October 18.