In 2016, a team of cyberthieves stole $81 million from a central bank in Bangladesh. The theft was meticulously executed: The hackers gained access to the bank’s financial transfer system through contaminated email attachments that allowed them to plant custom malware, which they used to worm through the office’s computer network until they reached the single server responsible for dispatching encrypted orders.
If this sounds convoluted in writing, just imagine trying to spin its esoteric details into a true-crime yarn fit for neophytes. “Billion Dollar Heist,” directed by Daniel Gordon, attempts the task by leaning on a stable of cybersecurity experts to walk viewers through the operation. To further explain, Gordon whips out a toolbox of visualization techniques. When, for example, the subjects describe how the hackers navigated Bangladesh’s internal network, Gordon depicts the mission as a Super Mario-like video game.
With so much action transpiring in the digital realm, the documentary is careful to milk its handful of terrestrial story beats: a critical typo in a transfer request, a multiday gambling spree at a Philippine casino, the wily scheduling of the attack on a national holiday to ensure that bank employees would be offline. These details ground the narrative, but their prominence contributes to the film feeling like predigested news — particularly when the more arcane aspects of the story remain undefined.
“Billion Dollar Heist” is not totally bankrupt, but in mining its central cybercrime for tidbits while smoothing over its complexities, the film erodes its power both as seminar and spectacle.
Billion Dollar Heist
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 24 minutes. Rent or buy on most major platforms.