Cold Wallet finds a taut balance between crypto commentary and gripping escapism: SXSW Film & TV Festival Review

Though there’s an enjoyable “Robin Hood”-like mentality to the narrative of Cutter Hodierne‘s always watchable thriller Cold Wallet, this cryptocurrency-heavy tale takes a less jovial approach to the world of tech talk and monetary scams than last year’s similarly themed Dumb Money.  But, despite opting for a more intense, oft-violent approach, the emerging filmmaker has still crafted a deliriously entertaining piece that isn’t lessened if you, like myself, aren’t familiar with the financial world it heavily plays within.

Raúl Castillo leads the charge as Billy, who we first meet in a small-town Massachusetts karaoke bar beaming about the possible investments on the horizon due to his vast crypto opportunities.  He sees his life changing before his eyes, and though his mood is temporarily dampened as he earns the wrath of his ex-wife during a tense Christmas exchange, the fact that he could splurge on a gift for his young daughter is enough to get him through; we garner money has never been readily available to Billy, so his ex is rightfully sceptical at his new-found “wealth”.

Unfortunately for Billy his Christmas season is about to get a lot frostier as he sees his prime crypto investment take a tragic nosedive, the result of a crypto-world crash, just as his realtor starts to push for financial documentation to go ahead with a house purchase that he was orchestrating off the back of his supposed funds.  The reason for such a sudden dip apparently correlates with the death of CEO Charles Hegel (Josh Brener), who was in charge of multiple accounts – including Billy’s assets – and his passing means no one can access the hoard of effected frozen ledgers.

Billy isn’t going to take this lying down however, and thanks to some snooping from his Reddit buddy Eva (Melonie Diaz), they uncover that Hegel’s death has been intentionally faked, with him hiding out in his expansive mansion; ultimately, the perfect place for some violence to go down without any neighbours to hear the commotion.

“We Robin Hood that shit”, is Eva’s response to Billy’s plan of confronting Hegel and forcing him to hand over the “cold wallets” – crypto keys protecting high-value assets, accessible only with special pass phrases – so that they can return the frozen funds to all the duped investors, which also now includes Billy’s gym trainer, Dom (Tony Cavalero), who’s alarmed to find he owes more than he invested.

The trio attempting to buy guns is uncomfortably amusing – the store clerk is a little too chipper – and there’s some fun development on Dom’s end when he reveals he’s more of a pacifist, and that he’s more capable with his bare hands than with a weapon, but, ultimately, the levity subsides when Hodierne’s story – written with John Hibey – embraces its home invasion temperament.

From hereon Cold Wallet submits to a tense atmosphere.  It’s a taut cat-and-mouse thriller between the continually smug Hegler and the desperate Billy, Eva and Dom.  There’s an uncertainty as to who’ll make it out of this sprawling mansion alive – Oliver Millar‘s cinematography adding to the discomfort with lush shots of the surrounding woodlands – and Hodierne clearly takes delight in this mentality, as the film builds with a certain ominousness that speaks to his strength as a genre navigator.

A topical thriller with a pulpy scenario – and it’s “Steven Soderbergh Presents” opening scrawl doesn’t hurt the film’s personality either – Cold Wallet takes a serious issue and layers it with a savage playfulness, finding a balance between commentary and escapism that proves accessible to all audiences, regardless of their knowledge of the economic universe at its core.

THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Cold Wallet is screening as part of this year’s SXSW Film & TV Festival, running between March 8th and 16th, 2024.  For more information on this year’s festival, head to the official SXSW website.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.