Jeremy Davies, Tom Cavanagh, and Frank Whaley Headline Indie Crypto-con Movie
DIRECTED BY MATT OSTERMAN/2022
The new crime film Bitcon is smart enough to explain the premise of cryptocurrency upfront. The opening credits play over a 1950s-style educational filmstrip about the almighty dollar giving way to the newfangled funny money. While far from a full scripto on crypto, it does brief us just enough to know that bitcoin and the like are supposedly untraceable, making them particularly appealing to people who don’t want to be found or caught. And that’s literally all that we need to know about it, as the plot quickly comes down to “Get the hard drive!!”. Were it the key to safe deposit box or a vault combination, the gist of the story would be exactly the same: “Get the [fill in the blank]!!” I.e., a bunch of eccentric criminals converging against one another in an effort to get the all-important macguffin.
Here, we have the cache/allure/red flag of the filmmakers seizing on the current Bitcoin fascination. Bitcon is a small movie that can use whatever gimmickry it can muster. Ultimately though, it’s the age-old reliable fear of new technology that’s meant to propel our engagement. The notion that Bitcoin and the like is most appealing to badguys, crooks and thieves harkens back to the mid-90s when that scary new thing called “the Internet” appeared, and therefore started invading the lives of film & TV characters. (Poor Captain Picard even got assimilated by hive-mind Internet/tech vampires, the Borg). Unfortunately, director Matt Osterman doesn’t succeed in cultivating a strong atmosphere of tension, so any cooked-up tech phobia only serves to reinforce whatever biases we bring. Namely, that anyone would have to be crazy to go all in on cryptocurrency.
Bitcon, though, wields no shortage of crazy. Two of the three of its recognizable name actors, Jeremy Davies and Tom Cavanagh, seem to have been courted to this project by the promise getting to play madly unhinged. Wild-eyed Davies in particular, playing an aged dim-bulb criminal in a floppy Hawaiian shirt, goes well beyond mere scenery chewing and into attempted scenery devouring. Cavanagh is contained by comparison, more or less falling in line with the level of whackadoodle exhibited by most of the other criminals in this low-key Guy Ritchie riff. There sure are a lot of dangerous eccentrics running around this sleepy corner of Minnesota. (None of whom seem to understand that keeping one’s head down is a far better stategy when it comes to going unnoticed, as to not get caught). Sooner or later, their shared quest of getting the million-dollar hard drive will get them a’shootin’ and a’stabbin’. And the large cast assures that there’s plenty of cannon fodder when the time comes. Surely there’s gotta be better ways to get rich quicker.
Doing fine jobs in their lead roles are Noah Anderson and Ella Ma, both of whom portray low-level players who quickly get in over their heads. Per the title, everyone is trying lethally hard to pull off their own bit of the con. Both Anderson and Ma are clearly good dramatic actors who are given guns and knives and briefcases to work with rather than deep gravitas. Anderson plays the token everyman who spends a lot of time operating out of a large aluminum storage facility owned by Frank Whaley’s armed-and-ready character (the one of the three familiar names who isn’t acting cuh-razzzy in this). Anderson carries the movie as best he can, although the trunk-load of narration that he’s made to deliver doesn’t play out with the hard-boiled register it requires. Ella Ma’s character is stuck dating cuckoo Jeremy Davies, the poor girl. It only goes to show that even ace conwomen can make bad personal decisions.
If you’re looking for a new-to-you gun-toting hard-drivin’ chase movie, you could do worse than Bitcon. You could probably also do better- but if you’re game for the risk, then the investment awaits.