Review: Crypto Is a Surprisingly Fun Movie About Compliance
“Fuck” is the first word uttered in Crypto. It might also be yours after watching John Stalberg Jr’s claustrophobic movie about an anti-money laundering agent caught in a web of deceit, intrigue, and bad beer. Copious cryptocurrency references have no tangible impact on the plot, but serve as a running gag for bitcoiners intent on scrutinizing the movie for the slightest sign of inaccuracy.
Beau Knapp Makes Compliance Look Sexy
Just as the shark’s arrival is heralded by that seat-clenching “dun-duuun, dun duuuun” music in Jaws, you’ll have no trouble deducing the bad guys in Crypto. The blast of Russian opera music every time their white van appears saves you from having to think for yourself, which is exactly how we expect our Hollywood movies to be packaged. In Crypto, the music builds the tension rather than the tension building the tension, and the movie’s sins don’t end there. Yet for all its flaws, including a nonsensical plot, Crypto is a fast-paced thriller that simmers nicely before spilling over in a ferocious finale.
AML agent Marti, played by Beau Knapp, is the very personification of the New York Bitlicense. Lines such as “I demand a culture of complete compliance in my department” are prone to make the skin crawl for every bitcoiner watching. Marti gets booted from his big city job for being too good at compliance, whereupon instead of being appointed to the Ripple board, he finds himself exiled upstate to the small town where he was raised.
There, he discovers something has taken root, and it’s not dad’s (Kurt Russell) potatoes. With glamorous art gallery hostesses, sexy assistants, and Russian mobsters skulking about, upstate New York is more NY than NY itself. Upon arriving to find his father’s farm failing, Marti is all set on restructuring loans and bringing in silent partners to save the day. Kurt just wants him to grab a shovel. Metaphors for the gulf between old money and new are all over Crypto.
A Cornucopia of Cryptocurrency References
Five minutes into Crypto and you’ll be praying that goodie two-shoes Marti winds up on the wrong end of a Kalashnikov, such is his toe-curling obsession with doing everything by the book. Marti is so square that when bitcoin bro Earl (Jeremie Harris) who runs the liquor store tells him the beer’s on the house, he drops a 20 on the counter anyway. Naturally, Marti drinks Bud Light. He’s the sort of guy who’d show up at your party and then call the cops cos some people were smoking pot by the pool. Marti mercifully gets some of those square edges rubbed off him as the movie progresses, and it’s hard to find fault with Beau Knapp’s portrayal of the AML agent. In fact it’s hard to find fault with any of the acting in this movie, which is more than can be said for some of the plot points.
Everything has labels in Crypto. It’s like the whole film is an exposition, because the trouble with treating audiences to a movie about cryptocurrency and money laundering is that you have to explain things as you go. Thus we encounter Earl logging in to a cryptocurrency exchange named “Cryptocurrency Market,” in between dropping crypto bro lines such as “Hang on – time is of the essence. I’m getting in on this ICO!” The scene in which Earl explains to a woman how Bitcoin works is a particular highlight.
Early in the movie, Earl shills the hottest new ICO to Marti like it was a brand of potent crystal meth but Marti demurs, presumably because he hasn’t performed compliance checks on the company, and what if they haven’t filed a CTR exemption for those funds? You can tell Crypto was shot in the last throes of the 2018 bull market, incidentally, because XRP is still trading at 60 cents.
Don’t Think – Just Roll With It
It’s not a classic by any means, but there’s plenty to enjoy in Crypto. My nocoiner mate described it as a “really good film” that was “solid” which, if nothing else, suggests that appreciation of the movie doesn’t call for a grounding in cryptocurrency. As Crypto progresses, we learn that Omni bank, which Marti is dutifully investigating, secretly invested $10 million in cryptocurrency in the previous quarter. The significance of this is unclear, but judging by the ominous music, it’s clearly A Bad Thing.
“I’m not entirely satisfied with the way the DD was handled,” spits Marti, always a stickler for doing things by the book, even as the Russians begin circling and the body count rising. He’s a fast learner though, to give him credit: at the outset, Marti confesses to have only understood 5% of Earl’s ICO spiel; by the midpoint, he’s effortlessly dropping insights such as “My guess is they’re buying Bitcoin over the counter to avoid market slippage.”
Director John Stalberg Jr. captures the essence of a small town where everyone’s got a secret to hide, and as the movie nears its climax, there’s no denying that whatever the hell is happening, this is hella fun. It would be asking too much for a movie about compliance to end with anything other than an American three-letter agency riding in to save the day; the Russian mobsters never stood a chance against the barbed quills of Hollywood. Whether you read Crypto as an allegory for Bittrex’s struggle to obtain a Bitlicense, or a brainwashing exercise on why money laundering is bad is your call. Despite having very little to do with cryptocurrency, Crypto is compelling fare for bitcoiners. If only real life compliance was this fun.
Have you watched Crypto? If so, what are your thoughts on the movie? Let us know in the comments section below.
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