Stream It or Skip It?

You do not need to understand how cryptocurrency works in order to enjoy Netflix’s new documentary Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King. Which is a relief, because crypto is even more difficult to understand than whatever the hell happens with dollars on Wall Street. Anyway, the movie takes a different-than-usual true-crime tack for Netflix, being less about murder (although the story does involve a mysterious death) and more about internet skullduggery – and, more specifically, the war between conspiracy theories and Occam’s razor.

The Gist: A man wearing a 3-D printed 8-bit-style raccoon-head mask speaks with a digitally distorted voice, and we groan – not another one of THESE documentaries. But worry not; despite opening with a bit of eye-grabbing sensationalism, Trust No One keeps its wits about it and doesn’t allow itself to be drawn into any nutso rabbit holes. Anyway, this is the story of Gerald Cotten and the many people who ended up with empty bank accounts after investing in his Bitcoin cryptocurrency exchange, QuadrigaCX. What the hell does a crypto exchange do? The movie explains it concisely and it almost makes sense: A guy like Cotten takes an investment, converts it to Bitcoin and trades it in hopes of turning a profit, kind of like a stock day trader does. He takes a percentage of every transaction, so it’s in his best interest to be a good, smart trader and make money for his clients. (Just don’t ask me how crypto actually worksplease and thank you.)

So here’s the thing. Cotten founded QuadrigaCX in Vancouver and, after the Bitcoin boom sent share values ​​sky-high, he appeared to be doing very well for himself – he traveled a lot, bought fancy cars and generally seemed to be living a fun life, if we take his YouTube videos and social media accounts at face value. We see him flying drone helicopters and smiling; he’s described as a nerdy guy who felt like an outcast, but found a community of like-minded types in the cryptocurrency world. He was in India when he got sick and unexpectedly died; he was 30. At the time, QuadrigaCX was Canada’s biggest crypto exchange, holding north of $200 million. But nobody could access the keys and passwords to the company’s accounts and, against conventional wisdom, the company had no safeguards to stop such a thing from happening. Everyone who invested their money was left grasping at empty air.

Case in point, a San Francisco software engineer named Tong Zou. Hoping for a quick turnaround profit to help pay some debts, he invested his $400,000 life savings and suddenly found himself unable to cash out. Email exchanges with QuadrigaCX strung him along and strung him along and then suddenly Cotten was dead and the money was inaccessible and Zou was enraged. He wasn’t alone – he found an internet forum of many other investors whose dough was out there somewhere, who knows where.

And you know how internet forums work. They foster things, let’s call them ideas. Ideas such as: Cotten faked his death and took the money (something that has actually happened before under similar circumstances). The public statement released by Cotten’s wife didn’t make sense. The 3-D-printed panda face man, who calls himself an “independent investigator,” believes Cotten pulled an “exit scam.” But don’t worry – it’s not just the angry internet guys we hear from in this movie. Be thankful for the journalists and forensic accountants who lend the voice of reason, exploring the oddities in the Cotten narrative, ruling out some of the crazier stuff in a quest for the truth.

Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King
Picture: Netflix

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Is the Trust No One saga more like the crooks who dug a tunnel into a bank vault and made off with more than $30 million in Netflix series The Great Heist of Brazil’s Central Bank? Or is it more like the deep, dark internet drivel we see in You Can’t Kill Meme gold A Glitch in the Matrix? Answer: It’s somewhere in between.

Performance Worth Watching: Alexandra Posadzki and Joe Costaldo are the Globe and Mail reporters who make sure this documentary follows the evidence, not the conjecture.

Memorable Dialog: A voice during the movie’s intro: “Either I knew a guy who screwed up and lost a quarter-billion, or I knew a guy who pulled off one of the greatest crimes in history.”

Sex and Skin: None.

Our Take: Be thankful Trust No One doesn’t lose us in the blockchain, whatever that is. A documentary explaining just how cryptocurrency works – and is easily manipulated by scammers – surely already exists, and might be full of all the minutiae you need to better understand it and/or stave off your insomnia. This film glosses over that and sticks to familiarities: The emotional investment we feel in the stories of people who lost four, five, six figures in the Cotten/QuadrigaCX dilemma, and, in their anger, desperately chase conspiracy theories (is there a plastic surgeon in Bermuda who altered Cotten’s face after he faked his death?) to ugly, hateful places.

Granted, not all of the victims of Cotten’s scheme are nasty individuals, but the people in the film – most of whom wanted to get officials to investigate in hopes of getting their money back – shared some space on the internet with enough misogynistic creeps that Cotten’s widow was forced to hole up off the grid due to death threats. One of the most surprising moments in Trust No One occurs when panda-face guy admits there’s only circumstantial evidence to the he-faked-his-death theory, and no indisputable proof.

Director Luke Sewell balances this perspective with the commentary of well-reasoned voices, the watchdogs of society, who aren’t trotted out like heroes, but just people who are just doing their jobs, and doing them well. They turn over some compelling twists and tangents and plot-thickenings in Cotten’s story – enough to make some of the wilder theories sound plausible despite the lack of sound evidence. The result is a pretty entertaining 90-minute not-too-deep dive that outlines a maddening financial scam – think Bernie Madoff or Lehman Brothers – for the modern crypto era, and quietly paints a portrait of how conspiracy theories lure in aggrieved people with siren songs. It’s an absorbing cautionary tale about trust in general, and how unscrupulous humans will always exploit it; a cautionary tale about cryptocurrency and NFTs seems like an inevitability.

Our Call: STREAM IT. Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King offers a solid payoff for your time investment.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at


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