The realms of bitcoin and cryptocurrency can be confounding labyrinths for those of us comfortable with paper money. “Dead Man’s Switch,” an at times absorbing documentary, demonstrates there’s nothing new under the sun in terms of stealing, whether the cash is material or virtual.
Its director, Sheona McDonald, has sufficient confidence in the story and lays out many of the juicy bits as the opening credits roll. A brash, well-liked young bitcoin entrepreneur dies suddenly in India, she tells us early, after which the money that was sunk into his venture by scores of ambitious investors goes missing. When the film ends, we’re told that over $200 million is still unaccounted for.
The entrepreneur was a fresh-faced Canadian named Gerald W. Cotten, and his trajectory — from Canada’s Pied Piper of cryptocurrency to a soon-to-be pariah keeping one step ahead of allegations of his misdeeds — is nearly whiplash inducing. McDonald enlists a small army of investigative journalists to piece together Cotten’s rise and fall. And, for poignancy’s sake, she features a couple of new-money in-crowd wannabes who wound up losing their life savings to Cotten’s company, Quadriga CX.
There’s some comedic value here. The movie details how the transparency supposedly inherent in cryptocurrency actually enabled Cotten to run what appears to have been a brazen Ponzi scheme. So a seemingly better way of banking turns out, perhaps, to be a better mousetrap for those willing to…