SXSW 2024 review: Excellent cast buoys a compelling thriller ‘Cold Wallet’

A trio of vigilantes played by Raul Castillo, Tony Cavalero and Melonie Diaz take on a corrupt crypto portrayed by Josh Brener that keeps you guessing.
Cold Wallet - Teaser - SXSW OFFICIAL SELECTION / Vanishing Angle

Cold Wallet is the kind of movie where you really want to root for the hero, Billy, intensely played by Raul Castillo, who holds the movie together in the lead role. A divorced, blue-collar father trying to do his best to provide some stability for his young daughter, It’s clear that he’s been dealt a rough hand in life. But the tenacity Castillo brings to the role makes you feel for the guy, even in the contentious scene with his ex-wife after he surprises their girl with a new PS5. The Christmas present was bought with his cryptocurrency, called Tulip in the film, and his ex-wife is livid considering that he’s chronically behind on child support.

Billy’s downturn transpires shortly afterward with the plummeting of the cryptocurrency, which affects his friend’s circumstances even worse. His friend, Dom, has borrowed on margin and now owes more than he had. As Dom, Tony Cavalero brings some levity to the script and his earnest dimwittedness brings fun to the suspenseful narrative. The two connect up with Eva, a third crypto victim whom Billy has chatted with online. Eva’s gumption leads her to deduce that the crypto king, Josh Brener’s Charles Hegel, has faked his death while absconding with everyone’s capital. She’s tracked him down to his New England home, in Lennox, Mass., where the three descend to strongarm him into returning everyone’s capital. As Eva says, “We Robin Hood this sh**.”

But once they get into the house—replete with shot and stuffed game, so you know a pivotal crossbow is in the works—events deviate from the plan. Seizing upon their ambivalence for violence and their ineptitude, Hegel utilizes mind games to begin isolating each of the ‘Robin Hoods’ against each other. It is here that Brenner’s gifts as an actor really shine. He packs a big manipulative punch in a small body. He’s the one tied up in this game of suspense, but he’s very much in control of the situation since he understands the stakes better than anyone and what it takes to win. As each vigilante ends up speaking to him privately, he offers them strategies to take out the other two so each can “wind up the winner to take it all.’

All of this transpires after Hegel’s been compelled by the trio to get his assistant to bring the contents of a safe deposit box to the house by morning. The assailants also find the ‘cold wallets’ in his house, which provide codes to unlock the stolen cryptocurrency, amounting to $259 M. It is the transfer of that substantial amount that alerts the feds, who contribute to the surprise twist in the end. I won’t ruin it here, but it provides a satisfying bittersweet conclusion to this sordid tale after a terrorizing night that includes a suspenseful cat-and-mouse-type chase.

Cold Wallet—directed by Cutter Hodierne and written by John Hibey—was my favorite film I viewed at SXSW in Austin, TX. Castillo’s Billy and Brenner’s cynical Hegel remained indelible characters that gave the film significant weight.

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