When her idyllic vacation takes an unthinkable turn, Ellen Martin begins investigating a fake insurance policy, only to find herself down a rabbit hole of questionable dealings that can be linked to a Panama City law firm and its vested interest in helping the world's wealthiest citizens amass larger fortunes.
Remember the Panama Papers? Those leaked documents that detailed how various people and companies created off-shore shell companies in order to avoid paying billions if not trillions in taxes around the world? No?
I’m not surprised. It was a huge story that seemed to become a flash in the pan and many people forgot about it after the coverage dried up because, very likely, the corporations that run the news media tried to bury it. But these folks didn’t forget.
The film’s title refers to the whole operation as generally being a money laundering scheme. Featuring an ensemble cast of Hollywood who’s who as well as who’s that, this Steven Soderbergh film invariably draws comparisons to Adam McKay’s “The Big Short,” both in subject matter and style. The narrators, played by Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas, frequently address the camera directly. Usually, this has the effect of making the audience feel like they’re in on the scheme, but it’s not as effective as when it was used in, say, “House of Cards.” Why? I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it likely has to do with the complexity of the scheme. Their characters are more than just narrators, but are actual players in the overall story, lawyers who created the paperwork and did the legwork to get these schemes off the ground. As such, they actually try to explain it, both simplified and with a certain complexity that leaves one a little unsure of the truth. Maybe that was the idea, but from a storytelling perspective, it didn’t quite work.
And effect is part of the problem with this film. Aside from being done as a comedy for what is in fact a very serious subject (the reporter who exposed this story was later killed by a car bomb), this film doesn’t feel very effective in conveying outrage. In fact, it feels less like outrage and more like being impotently miffed. The film doesn’t feel like it conveys the gravity of the situation. Which is very disappointing given the talent involved and the chance to really bring this subject back into the public eye. While I have to give the filmmakers credit with trying to make the complex money laundering scheme in the Panama Papers digestible to a general audience and keeping this visible, ultimately it feels like it’s too little too late.