2021, Movies

Dead Man’s Switch: a crypto mystery (2021, Sheona McDonald)

This is a hyper-stylized documentary about Quadriga, at one point Canada’s most popular cryptocurrency exchange. Somehow I completely missed this story as it happened, which is a little weird because I do pay some attention to tech stories and especially scams.

So the documentary is hyper-stylized and it’s fairly clunky in this regard. (It seems to be a first time film, which is not a surprise.) It’s not a long movie and the huge amount of unnecessary style does feel like padding, especially in the early going. The style isn’t completely superfluous, as it is used to emphasize a point a few times, but mostly it does feel little silly, especially because we have chosen to watch a film, not a series of YouTube videos.

But as the story evolves, things really pick up. And whatever annoyance I was feeling at the style evaporated as the plot thickened. I you know anything about the cryptocurrency world, you know it’s a world rife for scams. I won’t give you the details of this one but I will say that it’s a fascinating story, one that really illustrates the pitfalls of assuming that just because someone is publicly interested in the same things as you does not mean they share your values.

The film doesn’t do the greatest job of explaining what is happening, all the time. Some of this is on the interviews, I think, whether it’s because they couldn’t get their interviewees to give better answers or those people don’t know how to talk to people who are not in their world. Either way, a few times, I felt like someone who doesn’t know anything about the cryptocurrency world might be lost. Also, there are a few times, where the storytelling feels slightly backwards.

The other problem I have is the ending, which indulges the fantasies of some of the interviewees a little more than the rest of the film did. (The film is pretty grounded in reality the rest of the time.) It’s a pretty minor quibble though, as it’s clear the film doesn’t actually believe it.

I’d say the film is effective despite its flaws and is still worth watching, even though the style is overdone and occasionally the storytelling is clunky. It’s such a crazy story, you should really watch it.


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