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Netflix Wins Early Victory in Court Battle Over ‘The Laundromat,’ Film Now Available for Streaming

The real-life lawyers played by Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas don't like how they're portrayed in the new Steven Soderbergh film.


Steven Soderbergh’s “The Laundromat”

Claudette Barius/Netflix

Editor’s note: A federal judge Thursday night refused to block Netflix’s release of the Panama Papers dark comedy “The Laundromat,” which is now available to stream on the platform as the lawsuit against the film moves forward.

The judge also ruled that her Connecticut court was the inappropriate venue for Jürgen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca’s lawsuit against the streamer and, in another victory for Netflix, moved the case to federal court in Los Angeles.

“This lawsuit was a frivolous legal stunt designed to censor creative expression,” Netflix said in a statement. “Steven Soderbergh’s film tells an important story about the exploitation of innocent people and the misuse of the world’s financial system. Fortunately, you can now watch ‘The Laundromat’ — the film that Mossack and Fonseca tried to censor — on Netflix.”

Netflix fired back earlier Thursday, defending the film in a court filing as protected under the First Amendment and “obviously not a pure dramatic presentation of actual facts, but rather a comedic morality tale about a system which invites and protects abuse.”

The streamer pointed to on-screen titles in the movie that say the film is “based on” actual secrets and argued that the two characters in question, played by Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas, as “cartoonish narrators” are never shown as being involved in criminal activity.

Lawyers for Netflix, in asking a judge to deny Mossack and Fonseca’s request to prevent the film from being released, argued that Mossack and Fonseca are in an “emergency of their own making” by waiting until this week to file a lawsuit. News of the movie’s production has been public for at least a year and the film screened at festivals beginning in September.

Netflix’s lawyers also wrote that the men’s claim that the film’s use of their firm’s logo caused harm was “laughable, given that the complaint acknowledges that their reputations have already been so blackened as a result of the spotlight that the international press has been shining on Plaintiffs for the last three and a half years – the result of which was the loss of all of their clients, banks refusing to do business with them and the shuttering of their business.”

In Steven Soderbergh’s ripped-from-the-headlines “The Laundromat,” Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas play lawyers who, according to the Panama Papers document leak, allegedly helped the mega-rich stash billions in offshore accounts to evade taxes. The real-life lawyers, Mossack and Fonseca, are under federal indictment — but they don’t like how they’re portrayed on screen. They’re suing distributor Netflix to stop it from releasing the film this week.

The suit isn’t fazing Netflix: a source close to the production confirmed the streamer still plans to drop the movie on its platform Friday.

A Netflix representative referred a reporter to court documents when reached for comment. The streamer on Wednesday asked a judge to dismiss the suit, on grounds that the Connecticut federal court was an improper venue.

The 11.5 million documents that make up the Panama Papers were leaked anonymously in 2016 to media outlets. They linked one of the largest offshore law firms, Mossack Fonseca, to world leaders who used accounts and shell companies to shelter billions from taxes.

The darkly comedic “The Laundromat,” which screened at the Venice and Toronto film festivals, follows Meryl Streep as a vacationer who finds herself chasing the origins of a fake insurance policy, leading her to Mossack Fonseca. IndieWire’s Eric Kohn in his B review described the film as “money-laundering for dummies” thanks to its fourth-wall-breaking explanations about shell companies, corporate tax laws, and offshore accounts.

In their quest to have the film shelved, Mossack and Fonseca sued Netflix in a Connecticut federal court Tuesday. They allege that the film is defamatory because it portrays them as villains, and infringes on their copyright because it uses their law firm’s logo. Mossack Fonseca & Co. announced in March 2018 that the law firm would close in the face of economic and reputational damage

According to the suit, the film shows “clips of people connected to (the firm’s) offshore accounts and/or purported clients exclaim ‘shit’ and/or other expletives in different languages, including an English-speaking lady at a bar, a gentleman dressed in garb resembling a Sheik, two Russian gangsters, and the wife of a Chinese politician driving by some soldiers. The viewer is meant to associate Mossack and Fonseva with these tax evading, money laundering, and otherwise criminal ‘culprits.'”

Lawyers for Mossack and Fonseca argue that reviews of “The Laundromat” back up their claims, including this excerpt from the Los Angeles Times: “In a movie with more than a few false aliases, it spoils nothing to point out that Banderas and Oldman are in fact playing the firm’s chief partners, Ramón Fonseca  and Jürgen Mossack (which partly explains Oldman’s comically exaggerated German accent)”

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