- Kurt Russell, Beau Knapp, Luke Hemsworth and Alexis Bledel star in this crypto crime drama.
- Jeremie Harris steals the show (for crypto fans) as a Bitcoin Bro.
- Crypto barely features in the film, and isn't depicted accurately when it does.
Crypto is an indie film starring KURT RUSSELL. It's about money laundering, and mentions Bitcoin a bunch. Also, it features KURT RUSSELL. The poster wants to be very clear you get that.
The crypto bubble peaked in 2017, but movies take time to fight their way out of development hell. Crypto's original script was written in 2017 and sent to the director, John Stalberg Jr., in early 2018. Stalberg sorted out the production deals by mid-2018, and the film was finally released to video-on-demand, and "select theaters," in the US in April 2019.
Our Hero (who is not KURT RUSSELL) is a bank compliance officer. His name is Marty, and he's played by Beau Knapp, but actor and even character names don't really matter here—everyone's a generic type.
Marty is fighting the good fight against money laundering. He's functionally a cop, doing a humorless and antisocial version of Columbo. He is exiled to his home town in upstate New York for being too good at his job on Wall Street, and swoops into town to make everyone miserable in the pursuit of justice.
Things start with KURT RUSSELL being handed over to Marty by kidnappers. KURT doesn't show up again for another hour. Sorry, fans.
Liam Hemsworth in Crypto (2019). Image: LionsgateThe film's logotype is "CЯYPTO," with a backwards R. This is to telegraph early that the bad guys are ... Russkies! The accountant runs burner phone numbers by swapping SIMs by hand—as if every phone doesn't also send its IMEI—and you can tell he's a bad guy by the phone interface coming up in ... Russian!
Where's the crypto?
The movie starts off promising us a financial police procedural, maybe even something cerebral. Then it tries to turn into an action thriller—at least, it throws out the signifiers of an action thriller—but it fails to deliver any thrills.
SPOILER ALERT: The good guys win! The FBI swoops in and arrests everyone, including the rich bad guys. So, it’s definitely fiction, since in real life it would be the SEC just creating confusion.
The Bitcoin ATM scene in the liquor store is technically inaccurate, but socially spot-on: a normal person accidentally tries to use a supposed "Bitcoin ATM" to withdraw real money, and is preached at by the owner, Marty's high school buddy Bitcoin Bro—whose name, I learned from IMDb, is actually “Earl.” Out the back of the store, Bitcoin Bro/Earl is running mining rigs (at upstate New York electricity prices?) and day trading ICO shitcoins.
I laughed out loud twice at Bitcoin Bro evangelizing crypto at Marty in the bar.
Marty: "Do you really believe this shit, or are you just bored out of your mind?"
Earl: "Are those two things mutually exclusive?"
The pacing is paralyzingly slow—it takes two-thirds of the movie for the plot to get going. (You can bet I kept checking how many minutes in we were.) Every plot beat is telegraphed, and each beat gets ever more thuddingly unsubtle as the story progresses.
The soundtrack overdoes the ominous whooshing noises to signify that stuff is happening—it's unclear precisely what the financial shenanigans are, so the film has to tell you a given plot point is significant by the ominous whooshing.
The actors are better than the film. Did I mention KURT RUSSELL enough yet? KURT RUSSELL! He can do whatever he feels like, and he likely just decided this'd be a fun project. And he acts the hell out of his small part in this mediocre story.
Bitcoin Bro steals the show
If you watch Crypto for KURT RUSSELL, his few minutes here and there—playing a completely passive MacGuffin that happens to talk—will completely deliver. Lead actor Beau Knapp is also surprisingly good, delivering his dumb lines well. Alexis Bledel as Movie Poster Female Lead is fine, but barely interacts with the story. And Jeremie Harris does great as Earl the Bitcoin Bro, and gets a lot more actual plot—but they left him almost entirely out of the publicity, which is a shame.
The cinematography is excellent—every shot looks the part. Mostly in the dark—even the daytime scenes are dark—but that's fine. This film looks good.The dialogue though is overly processed, extruded Hollywood script product, and never mind the audible strain on some of the actors' faces as they try to deliver these bad sentences smoothly. The sound is muffled, to the point they had to resort to using muffled dialogue in the trailer. The denouement line of the film itself is barely intelligible. This was sloppy.
Crypto (2019): verdict
Crypto is not an individual vision straining to reach the screen, destined for cult acclaim among the hipster set. It's as spontaneous as a color-by-numbers picture. It's not awful, exactly, because it's running on rails. But at no point does it have the freedom to be great, despite the good-to-excellent acting.
So, is Crypto good news for Bitcoin? Or is Bitcoin good news for Crypto?
When the film first came out, Bitcoin was in a very different place from now, slumping along in a lengthy bear market. At the time, Crypto landed with a thud; Bitcoin was yesterday's news. Today, with Bitcoin back in the news owing to its recent price surge, it may meet with a warmer reception.
Of course, Crypto has also lost its unique sheen as the only film dealing with Bitcoin. Cryptocurrency has popped up as a plot point in TV shows like Billions and Altered Carbon, while the infamous OneCoin scandal is set to hit screens as a TV drama in 2021.
Ultimately, most casual viewers will likely not even know that this film exists. (The crypto crowd will just sigh, "Used incorrect key-generation procedure, misspells 'Merkle.' 6.537 out of 10.")
But Crypto doesn't have lofty pretensions beyond its B-movie status. It knows what it is, and doesn't offend the sensibilities. You can watch it at home drinking with friends, and say, "what the hell?" and "what just happened?" together at the dialogue and plot holes.
I’d rate it 3 out of 5 Bitcoin—or would, if that meant anything.