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Review: Bitconned (2024)

Bitconned (2024)

Directed by: Bryan Storkel

Premise: A documentary about the founders of Centra Tech who claimed to create a bank card that would allow users to spend cryptocurrency like any other form of money. The company was later shown to be fraudulent.

What Works: Twenty-first century capitalism has provided an abundance of stories of fraud and corruption that have been the basis for a cottage industry of documentaries and dramas. Bitconned is another title in that trend and it lays out the rise and fall of Centra Tech, a company that promised investors a way to spend their cryptocurrency. The Centra Tech affair is a significant story to emerge from the crypto era; it encapsulates a lot of the elements that defined this period, namely the attraction of cryptocurrency and the way that this market was beset by conmen and false promises. Part of the appeal of crime stories is the audacity, and sometimes the stupidity, of the criminals and Bitconned exploits this appeal. The story of Centra Tech is one of flagrant dishonesty; the guys running this company barely disguised their lies and display no remorse for their actions. The film benefits from the cooperation of several key players. Viewers may get the sense that these guys are bragging about their schemes and the filmmakers employ the Errol Morris technique of simply allowing their subjects to talk and reveal themselves. However, Bitconned also uses some dramatic elements and this is a docudrama that works. The dramatized elements play up the fast life style that these guys enjoyed during their scam, visualizing the fantasy of being a rich outlaw. It’s the same appeal as Scarface and The Wolf of Wall Street and setting that dramatized conman fantasy against the documentary elements subversively suggests that our cultural obsessions with wealth belie a moral rot.

What Doesn’t: The rise of cryptocurrency is a response to the failures and corruption of the financial industry and reflects the underlying lack of faith in government and other social institutions. The sad irony of the crypto era is that disillusioned people fleeing a corrupt system were caught in another scam. Bitconned doesn’t really explore the larger implications of crypto or the Centra Tech scandal; it doesn’t put these events in a broader context. The lack of consequences for the Centra Tech executives parallels the lack of accountability for Wall Street executives who tanked the economy in 2008 and the mild penalties meted out to other white collar criminals. The filmmakers of Bitconned never make these broader connections and miss the bigger picture.

Disc extras: Available on Netflix.

Bottom Line: Bitconned adequately explains a particularly exasperating cryptocurrency scam. It fails to make larger points about crypto and why there is so much fraud in the financial market but this story and the people involved are interesting enough to make Bitconned an engaging true crime documentary.

Episode: #986 (February 25, 2024)