Starring Meryl Streep. Rating unavailable
Following in the satirical steps of The Big Short, Steven Soderbergh wrings sardonic humour out of the Panama Papers, the 2016 data leak that led to the imprisonment of a number of scammers and the eventual downfall of various government heads and top dogs in Iceland, Jordan, China, and (notably) Ukraine. Everywhere but Russia, one could say.
Working from a screenplay by Scott Z. Burns (Contagion, Side Effects), itself adapted from Jake Bernstein’s book Secrecy World, the director of Traffic and Erin Brockovich here takes a scattershot approach to far-reaching effects of rampant tax evasion and other scams hollowing out what’s left of the middle class. He does this by visiting both ends of the pyramid simultaneously.
At the top, until they weren’t, were tax attorneys Jürgen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca, played respectively by Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas, who act as heavily accented, daiquiri-toting tour guides to the wide world of shell corporations and other off-shore scams. Closer to the bottom is Meryl Streep, as Ellen Martin, an older women who has just lost her husband in a boating accident and learns, the very hard way, just how fickle the world of bargain-basement insurance can be.
This mirrors the subprime-mortgage crisis of 2008, and offers Ellen, and us, entrée to the world of companies that exist only in post-office boxes on remote Caribbean islands. Jeffrey Wright, Melissa Rauch, David Schwimmer, Sharon Stone, and other familiar faces play people she runs into on her journey to understand what went wrong. The movie digresses into other real-life vignettes, illustrating various forms of bribery, extortion, and outright violence, with the help of Will Forte, Rosalind Chao, Matthias Schoenaerts, and many others.
As you can imagine, this onslaught of fact, anecdote, and educated conjecture becomes rather unwieldy, even (or perhaps especially) when whittled down to a fast-moving 95 minutes. Streep even plays another character, as well as a version of herself, and one could accuse the movie of lecturing us with a reductionist tone. Still, things can never be too simple for a world in which presidents confess to major crimes on live TV and half the population still isn’t sure what the hell happened.