‘Cold Wallet’ Review — A Crypto Thriller With an Unfortunately Low Yield

Mar 10, 2024

The Big Picture

Raúl Castillo stands out despite
Cold Wallet
‘s lackluster plot, giving depth to an underdeveloped character.
Black comedy and satire feel forced on a predictable path in this tech-themed thriller.
Characters fall flat, lacking complexity and depth, leaving the film devoid of real tension.

It’s tempting to just throw Cold Wallet on the rapidly growing pile of movies devoted to headline-making scandals and crashes from the worlds of tech and big business. The Social Network is 14 years old now, The Big Short will turn nine this year, and there has been no shortage of dramas and docs covering stock swindles, start-up failures, and social media cons in the years since. Interestingly, Cold Wallet, which is inspired by various real-life cryptocurrency scams, takes its tech news cycle hook and tries to transplant it to a completely different genre of film. Though there are some more traditional satirical flourishes around the edges, this is an inverted home invasion movie (of all things!) that uses crypto as merely a jumping-off point around which to craft what quickly becomes a single-location thriller. This is all well and good, but, unfortunately, Cold Wallet doesn’t offer enough thrills to work as that kind of genre picture, leaving its hook feeling like a gimmick and its actors stranded in roles that feel grossly underdeveloped.

What Is ‘Cold Wallet’ About?

Directed by Cutter Hodierne (Fishing Without Nets) with a script by Hodierne and John Hibey, Cold Wallet stars Raúl Castillo (Cha Cha Real Smooth, Army of the Dead) as Billy, a deadbeat dad who discovers the wealth-creating potential of crypto by endlessly scrolling Reddit. Billy sees this as his way to a better life — a big investment score that could allow him to buy the house he’s been promising to his young daughter, whom he shares custody of. He even convinces his friend, Dom (played by The Righteous Gemstones’ Tony Cavalero), to invest with him, as riches no doubt await. However, the currency they invest in turns out to be a scam, and, when it gets mass-dumped and its founder is presumed to have suddenly died, its value bottoms out, leaving Billy not just broke but owing money, as he was trading on margin (in essence, borrowing money from the broker to buy the cryptocurrency).

Desperate for a solution to his predicament, he finds a potential way out once he starts talking to a computer hacker known as Eva (Fruitvale Station’s Melanie Diaz). According to Eva, the founder of this particular cryptocurrency, a tech bro named Charles Hegel (Josh Brener), is not only still alive but also is hiding out in a mansion that’s within driving distance of Billy. All the money he duped out of his investors still exists digitally in a “cold wallet” — a secure, pass-phrase-protected device that stores crypto keys offline — and those funds could be recouped if perhaps a bit of intimidation was applied.

So a plan is hatched. Billy, Dom, and Eva — two dunderheaded, first-time criminals and the hacker girl who’s egging them on — are going to acquire some weapons, break into Hegel’s house, kidnap him, threaten him at gunpoint, make him unlock the cold wallet to transfer the funds, and gain back everything they had lost. The only question is what to do with the money once they get away with it. Do thet keep it all for themselves? Or distribute it, Robin Hood-style, to everyone that Hegel screwed over?

‘Cold Wallet’ Comes up Short on Its Investment

Tonally, Cold Wallet could have traveled down a couple of different paths. It could have positioned itself as a black comedy — a sort of Pain & Gain with Reddit nerds. There are a couple of funny bits here, including one involving a cheerful young girl who could be mistaken for a college cheerleader but instead mans the gun counter at a big-box store that ends up being a highlight. (“This Beretta is on sale if you sign up for our rewards program!”) But laughs aren’t something the movie has on its mind. It could have leaned more into the satirical elements of the story that it merely flirts with. Although, truthfully, when Cold Wallet does take that route, it often feels a bit too “on the nose.” An early scene happens in an empty parking lot located conspicuously between a GameStop and an AMC movie theater. Hegel has a giant Bored Apes painting hanging on his wall. However, the further into Cold Wallet you get, the more it devolves into just being a straightforward thriller … and not a terribly compelling one at that.

Of course, things don’t go as planned once Billy, Dom, and Eva find themselves inside Hegel’s mansion. There’s some tension wrung out of whether they’re going to get to him at all, and then, once they do, the film pivots to being more of a psychological thriller where Hegel attempts to screw with everyone’s minds, hoping to play them off each other until he can find a way to escape. Eventually, things do turn violent, and the movie takes on the cat-and-mouse trappings of any number of confined space or home invasion thrillers. For that to work, you need either interesting characters or clever story twists to keep the audience invested. Cold Wallet comes up short on both accounts.

Raúl Castillo Is a Standout in ‘Cold Money’
Image via Vanishing Angle

We could perhaps credit Castillo for making Billy the only character who feels somewhat authentic, although his persona rarely wanders much past “sad, schlubby guy who shouldn’t believe everything he reads on the Internet.” That still gives him a huge edge over Diaz’s Eva, who gets to deliver lots of techno-babble-laced exposition but doesn’t appear to have much in the way of a personality or internal motivation. As a big Righteous Gemstones fan, I was keen to see Cavalero, who’s so funny on that show as the dimwitted but well-meaning Keefe, get to step outside that role and tackle a completely different character. So I was disappointed that Dom just feels like an alt-universe version of Keefe. This is just another dumb guy who lacks self-awareness and likes to spout philosophical mantras to anyone who will listen.

The story never zags in any unsuspected or surprising directions, trudging toward an inevitable ending that’s almost certainly not going to be a happy one for anyone involved. Since the characters aren’t strong enough for the film to work as any kind of deeper character study, Cold Wallet may have needed to get a little grimier and tell a story with a bit more of a “B-movie” edge. Lots of weapons get waved around, but no one in the film feels particularly threatening. You could credit it for bringing some realism to a story about an inept kidnapping, I suppose, but it doesn’t necessarily help ratchet up the tension for the viewer. As a straight thriller, Cold Wallet just doesn’t work, and, as a film that tackles American capitalism via high-tech grift, it just doesn’t dig deep enough to do anything more than use its crypto scheme concept as buzzwordy window dressing.

Cold Wallet (2024) REVIEWCold Wallet is a cryptocurrency-themed, confined-space thriller that’s heavy on techno-babble but light on thrills.Cold Wallet is a cryptocurrency-themed, confined-space thriller that’s heavy on techno-babble but light on thrills.ProsRaúl Castillo does solid work giving life to an underwritten central character.Though it’s just one scene, a bit involving a cheerful gun salesgirl is a highlight. ConsMost of the black comedy or satirical elements feel tacked onto a more mundane and traditional single-location thriller.Cold Wallet’s characters are one-dimensional (at best) and quickly fall into stereotypes.The story lacks the type of inventive twists and turns a movie like this really needs.

Cold Wallet had its World Premiere at the 2024 SXSW Film & TV Festival.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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