Movie Review: financial thriller ‘Crypto’ trades in unstable currency
A hotshot young financial auditor gets exiled back to his rural hometown only to unearth a far-reaching conspiracy in Crypto, a well-shot, well-played new thriller now streaming on Amazon that maintains consistent low-level interest but never really takes off.
Despite being called Crypto, cryptocurrency here is a MacGuffin at best, a red herring at worst; Martin (Beau Knapp) doesn’t know Bitcoin from Blockchain when he arrives in sleepy Elba, New York, but old high school pal Earl (Jeremie Harris) is quick to fill his mind with theories about the big banks buying up various cryptocurrencies only to devalue their stock.
Martin, of course, just happens to be assigned to a rural branch of one of those big banks, where he discovers some unusual activities in the local art gallery run by sleazy Ted (a scraggly-bearded, barely recognizable Vincent Kartheiser) while running his audits.
With the help of gallery assistant Katie (Gilmore Girls’ Alexis Bledel), Martin is able to make some progress. Might the gallery’s shady dealings be tied into those rambling cryptocurrency theories, along with a money laundering plot, multiple homicides, and even the Russian mafia?
There’s elements of all that going on here, but after finishing Crypto I’m still not sure what, exactly, was going on behind the scenes - - ultimately this puzzle box feels ultimately too complex to work out, and probably not worth the trouble. But kudos to director John Stalberg Jr. (2010’s underrated High School) for keeping us at least mildly engaged all the way through.
On top labyrinthine financial plot at the heart of Crypto, there’s also some family drama as Martin is tenuously reunited with his war veteran brother Caleb (Luke Hemsworth) and father (Kurt Russell), who he hasn’t seen since mom died.
“You gonna grab a shovel?” Russell’s proud pa asks him, uninterested in any financial or consultative advice from his hotshot son as the bank forecloses on the old family farm. No points for predicting that the Crypto climaxes with a scene of Martin solemnly digging up taters as he finally reunites with his blood.
Russell really has only two scenes of note here, but he turns what would otherwise be cornball hokum into the best thing that Crypto has to offer: as Russell’s dad describes the rough life on the farm after mom’s passing, he adds an element of personal investment that most of the other characters seem to be lacking.
Knapp’s stoic lead is fine in Crypto’s early scenes as the aloof auditor (and not entirely dissimilar to Ben Affleck’s titular lead in The Accountant), but the character lacks emotional heft during the family subplot; I kept wishing he traded roles with Kartheiser, so memorable in AMC’s Mad Men, who is otherwise wasted here.
In the end, Martin has just done his job, and life goes on at OmniCorp. From a screenplay by Carlyle Eubank and David Frigerio (who penned the similarly complex, but far more successful 2014 thriller The Signal), Crypto hooks us in with promises of uncovering far-reaching financial scandals, but ultimately fails to give them enough weight to make us care.
Standout scene: a paranoid Martin, in the midst of a conspiracy that has led to a hotel room break-in, is startled by a delivery guy with a package from his friend. “I’m keeping your pen,” he says after signing for the package, just to punish the poor guy for creeping up on him. Man, I’m thinking, that’s cold.