Receive free Film updates
We’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest Film news every morning.
Cyber crime documentary Billion Dollar Heist tells a hair-raising story in its figures alone. It recounts the online theft in 2016 of $81mn dollars from the US Federal Reserve by nobbling the computer system of the Bangladesh Central Bank — with the loot transferred to a bank in the Philippines, then laundered by gamblers in Manila’s casinos. The feat was meticulously planned, triggered a year in advance and, as an FBI agent suggests here, altogether the stuff of an Ocean’s Eleven caper.
Narrated by writer and cyber crime specialist Misha Glenny, Billion Dollar Heist attempts to wrangle fairly complex technical information, making it accessible for non-specialist viewers and also exciting, following the contemporary tenet that documentaries should be narratively propulsive and, ideally, play like thrillers. Hence the title, which is technically inaccurate in that the perpetrators didn’t bag a billion: their haul fell considerably short because someone in the criminal chain set off alarm bells by misspelling a single word.
The culprits, we learn, were part of the international hacker organisation known as the Lazarus Group — depicted in animation as shady hooded figures, like tracksuit illuminati. Glenny narrates direct to camera, with similarly photographed interpolations from assorted journalists, consultants and security specialists. This meat-and-potatoes presentation is jazzed up by the usual visual flash now mandatory for documentaries of the Alex Gibney exposé school — although some embroidery is necessary when your material essentially concerns code scrolling past on computers.
Director Daniel Gordon uses split screens, dramatised reconstruction, zippy diagrams and some rather stiff comic-book animations. It all ends on an apocalyptic note that we’ve heard before — not least in Gibney’s own cyberwarfare doc Zero Days — but remains worth heeding. The film is a little too stolidly executed to quite manage the balance of insight, hard fact and true-crime thrills, but at the very least it serves as a reminder not to open any dubious attachments — and, if you’re a cyber-thief, to watch your spelling.
On digital platforms now