Raul Castillo in Finance Scam Vigilante Thriller

Billboard Women in Music 2024

It’s great to see the always terrific Raúl Castillo in a lead role, bringing both despair and tenacious grit to a luckless blue-collar father whose dreams of liquidity are shattered by a cryptocurrency scam. Cutter Hodierne’s thriller about three financial crime victims who go after the man responsible, Cold Wallet, doesn’t always make the tech talk crackle or exactly nail the tone he appears to be going for, of home invasion tension streaked with dark humor. But solid performances and a pulpy scenario that keeps you guessing make this a suspenseful watch.

While it’s clear that director Hodierne and screenwriter John Hibey know the crypto world, your mileage may vary depending on familiarity with meme stocks and doxing, securities fraud and blockchain. I confess it’s all Greek to me. Films like Dumb Money took a more playful route to the little-guy investor bucking against capitalist chicanery, but Cold Wallet tells a compelling story with incisively drawn characters. Having “Steven Soderbergh Presents” emblazoned up front won’t hurt its exposure, either.

Cold Wallet

The Bottom Line

Keeps you watching.

Venue: SXSW Film Festival (Narrative Spotlight)
Cast: Raúl Castillo, Melonie Diaz, Tony Cavalero, Josh Brener, Zoë Winters
Director: Cutter Hodierne
Screenwriter: John Hibey

1 hour 33 minutes

Castillo plays Billy, first seen talking up crypto opportunities to his buddies at a small-town Massachusetts karaoke bar. He’s upbeat about the possibility of investments with the potential to transform lives. But his mood deflates when he makes an unscheduled visit to the home of his hostile ex-wife Eileen (Zoë Winters) to deliver a Christmas gift to their daughter Stephy (Joanna Sylvie Weinig).

While the girl is delighted to hear the news that her dad will soon have a house where she can stay over on visits, Eileen flies into a rage when she sees the expensive PlayStation console Billy bought Stephy, given that he’s permanently behind on child-support payments. With that bitter fight still ringing in his ears, Billy sees his investment plummet with a major crypto-world crash, just as his realtor is pushing for financial documentation to move forward on the house.

According to reports, the CEO of the Tulip exchange where Billy’s assets and those of countless others have been frozen died suddenly, leaving no one with access and sending the company hurtling into chaos. But a Reddit hacker friend that Billy knows exclusively from their online chats, Eva (Melonie Diaz, Charmed), says Tulip kingpin Charles Hegel (Josh Brener, Silicon Valley) faked his death and is hiding out in a palatial mansion not far from them in Lennox. She suggests they go “whale hunting.”

Billy ropes in his jiu jitsu trainer at the gym, Dom (Tony Cavalero, The Righteous Gemstones), whose financial stability is also suddenly precarious; he’s alarmed to see that he purportedly now owes more than he invested. The trio’s sketchy plan is to break into Hegel’s home and force him to surrender the “cold wallets,” crypto keys protecting high-value assets, accessible only with special pass phrases. They then agree to return all the frozen funds to the duped investors. “We Robin Hood that shit,” says Eva.

There’s some queasy amusement in the group’s dealings with a perky gun store salesclerk who sells them a pistol, and in pacifist Dom’s strenuous objection to firearms, insisting he can be just as persuasive with a strategic grappling hold or two. Likewise in a shot of the parking lot where Billy and Dom first meet Eva, with GameStop and AMC signage slyly underlining the prevalence in contemporary America of get-rich-quick scams. But the attempts to introduce levity generally are less effective than the straight-up genre elements, especially once the vigilantes’ home invasion gets started.

The sprawling house, isolated in snowbound woods, is a terrific set for a heist. It’s filled with mounted animal trophies, whaling art and other signs of the high-end hunting enthusiast, so it’s almost inevitable that at some point a crossbow will become a deadly weapon.

When Peaches’ “Fuck the Pain Away” blasted over the security system fails to intimidate the intruders — a serious WTF? moment — they soon locate and overpower Hegel. He lies about not having the cold wallets in the house, but eventually acquiesces under threat and contacts his assistant (Genevieve Adams) to have the contents of a safety deposit box in the Cayman Islands delivered to him by morning. However, moving that amount of cash risks alerting not only Hegel’s criminal associates but also the Feds.

Hegel shows the same contempt for the assailants that he shows for the people whose life savings he stole. What he’s really doing is taking every opportunity to set each one of them against the others, manipulating them into mutual mistrust while planting the idea that one of them could make out like a bandit by eliminating the others and absconding with all the cash.

Hodierne doesn’t entirely avoid a lull in the story as the hours tick on and uncertainty spirals over the execution of the vigilantes’ plan. But once the violence of the final act is unleashed in a cat-and-mouse game designed to leave just one person standing, the thriller remains taut for the duration.

A propulsive score by Patrick Taylor, Andrew Silagy and Maciej Zielinski, which builds from ominous to pounding and adrenaline-charged, certainly helps in that regard. The same goes for cinematographer Oliver Millar’s impressive shots of the expansive woodlands surrounding Hegel’s hideout.

The cast all have their moments. It’s good to see Winters — last seen as poor Kerry, humiliatingly collecting the contents of her handbag off the floor before being kicked out of the late Logan’s home on Succession — albeit too briefly. Cavalero conveys the dilemma of a guy assigned strongarm duties but fretful about his “karmic imprint.” Diaz is plucky and determined in ways that the more timorous guys can’t quite muster. Brener is a disdainful weasel, treating everything as a game.

The glue holding it all together is Castillo, by turns naively idealistic and glowering with a righteous anger that could make him go off like a bomb at any moment, but maintaining the mystery as to what he’ll do with the frozen $259 million should he get his hands on it.

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