Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.
USA, 2019. Anonymous Content, Grey Matter Productions, Netflix, Topic Studios. Screenplay by Scott Z. Burns, based on the book Secrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite by Jake Bernstein. Cinematography by Steven Soderbergh. Produced by Scott Z. Burns, Lawrence Grey, Gregory Jacobs, Steven Soderbergh, Michael Sugar. Music by David Holmes. Production Design by Howard Cummings. Costume Design by Ellen Mirojnick. Film Editing by Steven Soderbergh. Toronto International Film Festival 2019. Venice Film Festival 2019.
Meryl Streep goes on a boat cruise in Niagara Falls with her husband of forty years (James Cromwell) and an accident scuttles their vessel and kills twenty-one passengers. The runaround she gets regarding her settlement from the tour group’s insurance company puts her on a complicated journey of discovery that dovetails with her looking into the reason why she was screwed out of a Las Vegas apartment that she attempts to purchase as a way to enjoy her twilight years. What she learns is that the businesses she is appealing to for answers are among many shell companies that are managed by a law firm in Panama City run by Jurgen Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Ramon Fonseca (Antonio Banderas), who create these entities as tax shelters for the wealthy. The connections reach far and wide and the lives who are touched by this complicated hurricane of greed include a rich African businessman whose family problems come out during preparations for his daughter’s birthday party at their Los Angeles mansion, a dangerous deal between a German businessman (Matthias Schoenaerts) and the wife of a powerful Chinese politician (Rosalind Chao, who is superb), Robert Patrick and David Schwimmer as the men who own the cruise boat that Streep had her accident on and are looking for their own insurance coverage, and a minor insurance company run by Jeffrey Wright on the island of Nevis. Oldman and Banderas do double duty as the film’s hosts, as director Steven Soderbergh applies a Big Short-style narration that they perform in increasingly dazzling smoking jackets, using ironic humour to describe the manner in which global financiers have screwed the ninety-nine percent. As the film progresses and the various pieces of the plot’s mosaic fail to come together as a whole, the outrageous stylistics reveal themselves more as distractions to cover up a lack of substance rather than put any of the film’s truths into context. The connections between the various people and places are sketchy and a number of details are confusing, we invest in characters who don’t pay off (in Streep’s case, her happy ending has nothing to do with the efforts she has made). Based on the real-life Panama Papers scandal, the film suffers from our not knowing enough specific facts to make for a wholly satisfying movie, wrongly relying instead on telling us that runaway capitalist greed is at the heart of the world’s problems, as if we didn’t already know; Streep’s concluding monologue, in which she reveals a shell game that Soderbergh has played in his casting, breaks the fourth wall and goes for a poignancy that it does not achieve. The cast is uniformly excellent, including a brief appearance by an electric Sharon Stone, with Banderas the best of them in both his diegetic and metanarrative duties.