Cold Wallet

Cold Wallet (2024)

Cold Wallet had its World Première at the SXSW 2024

“Ever been whale hunting?” reads a text message that Billy (Raúl Castillo) receives from ‘EvaZer0’ near the beginning of Cold Wallet. Billy is divorced, deadbeat, and, let’s be honest, a bit dim – but his life has recently taken a turn for the better as his investments in new cryptocurrency Tulip have just gone through the roof, making him believe that he might actually be able to afford his dream home, and even have his young daughter Steph (Joanna Sylvie Weinig) move in there with him. Yet on Christmas day, when Tulip’s CEO Charles Hegel (Josh Brener), who alone has access to unlock the Tulip exchange, is reported dead in Kenya, all those invested in the bitcoin – mostly low-income dreamers like Billy – find not only that their assets have been frozen, but also that they have accrued debt. 

EvaZer0 is Eva (Melonie Diaz), a socialist hacker known to Billy through Reddit forums, and she has texted him claiming that Hegel has faked his death, and is in fact hiding out in one of his mansions in nearby Lenox. So Billy and his friend the hippie-dippie wrestling coach Dom (Tony Cavalero) go to meet Eva, and together they hatch a plan to arm up, pay the young billionaire a visit, get the ‘cold wallet’ where he keeps offline all Tulip’s crypto data, and “Robin Hood that shit”, redistributing it to the investors. When Eva first proposes taking the law into their own hands to pursue Hegel, Billy responds, in a rare moment of introspection, “You know I can’t do this shit.” Sure enough, the question of Billy’s abilities and ethical makeup will repeatedly be raised as, over the long dark night that they hold Hegel hostage in his own home, the loving father will be tested and tempted, and viewers will be left unsure till the very end whether he is a decent, honourable man, or someone cut from the same selfishly sociopathic cloth as Hegel. He certainly helps himself to his host’s wardrobe, and starts looking a little too comfortable both wearing an expensive fur coat and brandishing a gun.

In its opening text, Cold Wallet purports to be “based on a slightly true story”, and it is all too easy to see the ‘pirate’ Hegel not just as (to quote Eva) a “Bernie Madoff motherfucker”, but also as a Sam Bankman-Fried type. Despite being securely bound and powerless for much of the film’s duration, he continues to seduce and manipulate his captors, rapidly identifying their individual weaknesses and pitting them against one another. Hegel not only perceives the basest instincts in everyone but, like a whispering devil, also actively brings those low urges out. Really they are no match for him, outwitted and outplayed across the board, and unable to compete with his avaricious inhumanity. Yet in bringing into confrontation the kinds of people – a superrich fraudster and his impoverished victims – who normally would never meet, and seeing what might emerge from their violent collision, this feature from director Cutter Hodierne (Fishing Without Nets, 2012), co-written with John Hibey, offers its very own form of Hegel-ian dialectic, impossibly synthesising the contradictory politics of a polarised, class-riven nation as thrilling entertainment.  

As for Eva’s opening text to Billy, ‘whale hunting’ might seem out of place in the westernmost hinterlands of Massachusetts, even if the whaling ship Pequod sets off from the east coast of the same state in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851). Yet Cold Wallet is full of references to whaling: whether the prominent old portrait, hanging on Hegel’s wall, of a whaling boat struggling with a monstrous cetacean; or the model whale, covered in US banknotes, displayed under a glass panel; or a capitalist metaphor employed by Hegel (“No calf went mega by swimming with the pod – you’ve gotta eat it all”); or Billy’s reference to big Wall Street investors as ‘crypto whales’; or the massive harpoon gun hidden in the basement; or even the famous opening line of Melville’s novel, eventually quoted at a crucial moment. After all, everyone here is, Ahab-like, chasing their own big one, be it elusive money or a broken (American) dream.    

strap: Cutter Hodierne’s Christmas thriller follows three victims of cryptocurrency fraud seeking vigilante redress from an elusive CEO

© Anton Bitel