Directed by Steven Soderbergh, written by Jake Bernstein and Scott Z. Burns, this is the true life story of shell companies, insurance fraud, and one woman’s quest to find the truth. I love Steven Soderbergh (read my review of The Knick ) and I really like this movie and the message it’s trying to get out; however, the campy mixed with storytelling, gets old rather fast. Kind of like a behind the scene story of what happened told by the offenders from their luxurious and smart ass point of view – aren’t we so smart and regular folks are so stupid…overall, a story meant to piss you off, get your brain off sugar with a taste of reality, and wake you up…on to the story.
Ellen and Joe Martin, played by Meryl Streep and James Cromwell, go on a water cruise, the boat capsizes, and Ellen is now a widow. What follows is a tragic story of the boat business finding out the insurance they thought they had didn’t exist, how shell companies make LOTS of money (on paper) for those who control them, and how regular folks like Ellen (or any of us) pay and pay dearly.
Gary Oldman plays Jurgen Mossack while Antonio Banderas plays Ramon Fonseca, the two law partners leading the shell company scheme. These two must have fun shooting these scenes and portraying two real people who are larger than life with flamboyance, arrogance and narcissism. *These two are currently under investigation for their business practices and tried to sue Netflix in an attempt to prevent them from releasing the film, saying the film shows them in a bad light. Aww, those poor guys concerned about their image. Boo hoo. For more info, read these two articles: The Panama Papers: Secrets of Dirty Money and The Panama Papers.
So, Here’s The Gist
What the movie and the articles suggest is this: An entity has money to hide or wants put in an offshore account for tax purposes or whatever. This law firm creates the “shell” company, which is just a name and address, for a fee and handles the correspondence and paperwork for the shell company. The firm has account managers, like secretaries or customer service reps, which sign their names all day long. These people don’t know anything about the shell companies or what they’re signing, they’re just getting paid to sign their name hundreds of times per day. Wow.
So, back to Ellen Martin. She wants to know what she is supposed to do next now that she’s a widow. She starts poking around and tries to find the company who owes her a settlement for her loss. Meryl Streep is fantastic, as always, as a doting grandma and amateur private investigator in her quest for knowledge. Her story is relevant as it brings the consequences of what these two lawyers created home as a reminder it can happen to you and it’s going to hurt in more ways than losing your loved one.
Ultimately, a whistleblower starts leaking information of these nefarious practices, a book is written, an investigation ensues, and then we get to see a short version of it on Netflix. Watch the trailer here:
*My mom watched it before I did and had a strong reaction to story as her retirement is stolen from her month after month in the form of the Widow’s Tax. Her husband paid into an annuity for decades while serving and after retirement from the military. When he passed away in December 2017, mom was expecting money from both the Surviver Benefit Plan (annuity) and the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation program. The widow’s tax basically says she can’t have both even though my stepdad James Curtis paid into it separately. There are two bills trying to do away with the tax; however, the government is crying over how much it will cost them to pay the widow’s (at least the ones still alive) the money owed to them. Awww, boo hoo. Our government might as well be the Laundromat Lawyers big brother since they are essentially doing the same thing. Stealing people’s money and then looking the other way when asked about it.
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