Based off of Jake Bernstein's book, Secrecy World, Netflix's recent release entitled The Laundromat, stars Meryl Streep as the recently widowed Ellen Martin after her husband (along with 20 others) die in a boat accident during what is supposed to be a dream vacation. As she tries to secure a financial settlement from the incident, she is exposed to a dark world of tax fraud, money laundering, and shell companies that exist to make the rich even richer and even less accountable.
The film's episodic narrative and unpredictable plot twists may give the impression that this story is completely false. Although The Laundromat does incorporate several fictional elements to make its point, there are plenty of people, places, and events that the film draws inspiration from.
10 Ethan Allen Boat Disaster
Although Ellen and her husband are the stuff of fiction, the boat disaster depicted in the film actually happened. The Ethan Allen was an actual boat similar in appearance to the one featured in the movie, capsizing as it sailed across New York's Lake George back in 2005.
Just like in the movie, 20 people were killed, many of them senior citizens. It seems like the possibility of the boat flipping completely over had never occurred to anyone, considering the fact that the passengers were not given life jackets to wear during the tour.
9 Boncamper's Blunder
Ellen's quest to be compensated for her husband's death leads her to the Caribbean island of Nevis, where she meets a man by the name of Irvin Boncamper. Not only was Boncamper a real person, but the wardrobe that he wears when Ellen confronts him is almost frighteningly similar to how he really dressed!
He was most likely never confronted by an old woman from the U.S., but he was definitely arrested and pled guilty to money laundering back in 2011. Just like in the movie, Mossack Fonseca responded swiftly to his arrest and attempted to erase him from the company's records, but of course, time eventually caught up with them.
8 John Doe and the Panama Papers
Whether it's Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, or even Ben Franklin, whistleblowers have always been a part of U.S. history. In this case, John Doe, made its presence felt after exposing several of the illegal practices behind the Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca. As if the news clips pulled from actual reports after the leak broke weren't convincing enough, it should also be noted that the leaker did, in fact, use the alias "John Doe".
The movie almost suggests that this leak was an inside job, with the company's fictional administrative assistant Elena speaking the first part of John Doe's actual manifesto. Maybe The Laundromat will entice John Doe to step out into the spotlight for that claim to fame that they're definitely entitled to.
7 The End of Mossack Fonseca
Through evading taxes with their establishment of thousands of shell companies while exploiting the "meek", Mossack Fonseca was able to fatten the pockets of its founders, Jurgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca. In actuality, this company did exist, and the unfair practices explained throughout the film are just the cherry on top of their corruption cake.
Although the characters related to the company's endeavors, like Mia Beltran and Charles, might not be real, they are written to show the impact that this possessed over a multitude of lives. After the Panama Papers, the company did shut down, hopefully for good.
6 Speaking of Mossack and Fonseca...
Usually, we expect our narrators to be morally sound and trustworthy, but The Laundromat turned this expectation on its head when Jurgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca infused the narrative with their own money hungry perspective. Their origin stories are largely accurate: Jurgen's father was indeed a senior Nazi corporal for a bit, while Ramon went to law school with the goal of saving the world, which quickly devolved into just saving himself.
The two actually did serve some time in jail, and the world hasn't heard much of them since then, until recently after they filed a defamation lawsuit in an attempt to stop The Laundromat from being released (which obviously failed). They should at least be grateful that they now have a chance at becoming one of the most iconic fourth-wall-breaking duos!
5 Gu Kailai
Towards the end of the film, Gu Kailai, a Chinese lawyer and businesswoman, met British businessman Maywood in a hotel room, and the rest is actual history. The movie presents an accurate depiction of the events around this visit, although Maywood's name in real life was Neil Heywood.
Just like in the film, Gu was paranoid to the point of asking business partners to divorce their spouses to prove their allegiance to her when it looked like her corruption would be exposed, and after Heywood refused, he died from the poison she had put in his drink. As of now, she's still in prison, where she is serving a life sentence, hopefully far away from pitchers of water.
4 Red Red Wine... And Blood
At one point, The Laundromat takes us to Sinaloa, Mexico, and briefly follows the short-lived adventure of two "gringos" who end up stumbling upon a cartel leader, only to end up six feet under. Sure enough, Sinaloa is infamous for the Sinaloan Cartel, so this encounter, as harsh as it was, definitely happened to unfortunate tourists who wanted to "explore the wild side of Mexico". Before their deaths, the two men discuss the song playing in the bar, with one of them telling his friend that it was actually written by Neil Diamond, much to his pal's disbelief.
Not only is this true, but there's definitely a good reason for the confusion. The song, "Red Red Wine", was originally written and released in 1967, although that's actually not the version of the song that's playing in the bar. Instead, it's a cover by the English band UB40. Neil Diamond just loved the cover so much that he often performed this version of the song instead of the original.
3 Gold Headphones
We were pretty disappointed when we couldn't find any real indication that Charles existed. After we saw him attempt to bribe his daughter so that he could continue his affair with her roommate, we wondered what he was up to now. Unfortunately, it seems like this juicy story is purely fictional, although there's one line from Charles that piqued our interest.
Charles tells his mistress Astrid that she shouldn't drop her headphones in the water because they were gold. No, not gold-colored, but actual gold. Sure enough, you can actually buy a pair of solid 18-carat gold headphones! What are you waiting for? Spend that spare $15,000 you had just lying around! Happy Plug ships everywhere in the world! And no, we promise this isn't an ad.
2 Name on a Grain of Rice
As Ellen takes a trip down memory lane, she mentions a man on a Las Vegas corner who could carve your name on a single grain of rice for 25 cents. We dug into it, but were unable to find any record of a time when there was a man anywhere near the Las Vegas Eiffel Tower that was recorded to have written names on grains of rice, although rice writing is a very real practice!
Las Vegas's own Fremont Street Experience actually features a rice jewelry kiosk where you can get your name carved on... You guessed it! A single grain of rice!
1 1209 North Orange Street
Towards the end of the movie, we learn about 1209 North Orange Street, an address in Delaware that holds 285,000 businesses, none of them paying state taxes. Not only does this legal tax avoidance hub exists, but according to our unreliable narrators, the film's director, Steven Soderbergh, has five businesses here, and a recent interview with The Guardian confirmed that he now has six!
He claims that this is for the purpose of creating LLCs during the filmmaking process that can enter into contracts and get insurance for his movies, but regardless, it's shocking to know that tax evasion can be legal! The Laundromat was a movie that we needed now more than ever in this era of withheld tax returns and increasing taxes on the middle and lower class. We all need to be whistleblowers in our own communities to hold business owners accountable, right after we crack open a nice, cold bottle of Soderbergh's own "Singani 63".