The Laundromat

            No, itís not about washing clothes.  Itís about money laundering.  And how itís not just the drug dealers who are doing that, but even supposedly legitimate businessmen, who are adroitly utilizing legal loopholes in order to fleece innocent consumers.  Like us.

                Ellen Martin (Meryl Streep, in a decidedly unglamorous role) is an active senior, caring for her more elderly husband, Joe (James Cromwell), who needs help putting on his shoes, and remembering to take his medications.  Ellen and Joe are on a 40th anniversary trip, boarding a seemingly safe tourist pontoon boat, puttering across a little lake, until an unexpected wave instantly capsizes the boat, drowning many of the elderly passengers, including Joe Martin.

                Yes, there was an insurance settlement.  But hereís the nefarious part:  the transportation company, seeking to cut costs, went with an obscure re-insurance provider, which in turn sells its interest to an international firm based out of Panama, which, you guessed it, is owned by yet another shell company, with no real assets, supposedly based in Nevis.  The people orchestrating this scam have already distanced themselves, secure in their impermeable offshore accounts, and their corporate anonymity.

                Itís kind of amusing watching Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas trying to explain all this to the viewer, looking like overdressed vaudevillians dancing the sidestep----villains grinning like Cheshire cats high on purloined milk.  What we donít witness here is any milk of human kindness, as we agonize our way through another wrenching scenario, where a philandering husband first pays off his cuckolded wife, then his furious daughter, but then clandestinely revokes their ďbearer paperĒ through a series of financial razzle-dazzle moves that feature, yes, more shell companies.  Itís a modern version of the old con artistís shell game, where the wicked prosper and the meek inherit the wind.  At one point, Ellen Martin is praying in an empty church, asking God what happened to ďthe first shall be last, and the last first. ď And would it be OK to pray that the greedy would get their comeuppance?  And by the way, just when were the meek going to inherit the earth?

                Actually, the whole movie turns preachy at the end, though itís not at all clear what any of us ďordinary peopleĒ are supposed to do about these technically legal but morally bankrupt business gambits---other than endure the strategic bankruptcies of those whoíve learned to pilfer the system at the expense of those fools who play by the rules.  Like us.


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association