In 2005, a tour boat on Lake George, in northern New York, capsized, and 20 people, mostly retirees from Michigan, were drowned. The expected insurance payout didn’t ensue because, as it turned out, the insurance company (selected for its ultra-cheap premiums) was actually a fraudulent operation. Documents for the fake insurance company had been put together by Mossack Fonseca, a law firm in Panama, an outfit that specialized in creating tax havens for flight capital and skeevy operators from all over the world.
That might have been a good movie, had Steven Soderbergh decided to make it. Instead, he put together a series of vignettes featuring a variety of awful people engaged in various schemes, generally put together by MF, to protect their ill-gotten gains incidentally ruling the lives of ordinary people. The vignettes have no obvious connection to each other, or to the prominent people named when MF’s sleazy business operations were finally exposed. The stories are sometimes entertaining, but the lack of any organizing thread gets wearying after a while.
Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas play the two law firm principals, probably accurately. as sneering aristocrats pretending ignorance of their clients’ business operations. They provide running commentary on some of the techniques the law firm used to achieve their clients’ goals, in the manner of the recent movie about the 2008 financial crisis, The Big Short. But unlike that movie, which actually explained complex financial arrangements in laymen’s language, this movie uses terms such as “shell company” and “financial instruments” in talismanic fashion, as though it was so self-evidently evil to set up a company with a post office box they didn’t need to provide any more thoughtful explanation. I felt like I was watching a Dan Brown movie.
With all the talent and money involved here, they could have made a movie elucidating the very real problem of international money laundering. Instead, they did a hit piece on capitalism in general, never mind that it was just that kind of free-wheeling capitalism that allowed this movie to get made in the first place.
A major disappointment.