I usually start my reviews quite confident of what I’m going to write. For instance, before reading the BitBoy book it was easy to know what I was getting into simply by watching several of his obnoxious YouTube videos.
I figured The Highest of Stakes, a documentary about a cryptocurrency known as Hex and its founder Richard Heart), would be similar. Heart’s real name is Richard Schuler. He’s loud, unpleasant, and narcissistic. Heart volunteered for the documentary and heavily promoted it — so I was sure it’d be another shill-fest.
But The Highest of Stakes is no promotion of Hex. Essentially, it’s a 90-minute version of the scene from The Big Short where Mark Baum asks, “Why are [the mortgage brokers] confessing?” and his coworkers say, “They’re not… they’re bragging.”
The Highest of Stakes and the madness of crowds
The Highest of Stakes opens with investors describing Heart as a “god,” “messiah,” and “benevolent king.” Heart sits down and joyously lists off his assets.
“$10 million in cars, $3 million in watches… and the world’s biggest diamond,” he says (and will repeat at least three times over the course of the film).
In the introduction, the audience is led to believe that they’re simply watching a film about a cult. But the deep realities of Hex appear after the initial round of adoration. First we meet RG3, a self-proclaimed ‘Hexican’ who quits his job by saying something along the lines of “Basically, buddy, I’m the richest man you’ve ever known.”
But RG3 doesn’t want to hoard his brilliant investment. He has to try to help his friends get as wealthy as he is (on paper). So, he ropes in his buddy Mikey.
Mikey states from the get go that he trusts RG3 so much that he’ll often invest in projects “without really knowing what [they are].” He’s married to a really smart woman named Ramey. Besides showing devotion to her family and being a responsible parent, she also seems to be aware that the cryptocurrency industry is a minefield of scams and hustlers.
RG3 and Mikey fully trust Heart but Ramey isn’t even on the fence: she wants nothing to do with Hex. Despite his wife’s protestations, Mikey dumps their entire life savings into the project.
“I bought some [Hex] this morning,” he tells Ramey.
Smiling, she says, “Like a little bit? Not a lot?”
“Yeah, just a little bit.”
“Like how much?”
Exasperated, Mikey says, “Like, I put all of [our house money] in.”
Ramey stops smiling.
A train wreck you can’t look away from
The majority of the film is consumed with two dueling narratives: one is that every financial product boils down to a ponzi scheme, with Richard Heart as the shining example in crypto. The other narrative is that Heart has built a cult of personality on the blockchain based on “number go up” despite no real-world product or use case and is doomed to fail.
Neither of these narratives are particularly compelling. Unfortunately, this means most of the film revolves around the unlikable Richard Heart and two professors, Dr. Kelly Richmond Pope and Dr. Lamont Black, who are keen to look into Hex as a scam but are far too medical in their approach.
Heart perfectly portrays the obscene centimillionaire jerk, but the two pushy professors constantly saying they “don’t get it” is repetitive and doesn’t offer a fair representation of the high quality and intense personalities of some of the strongest Hex opponents, such as Eric Wall. He makes a brief yet memorable cameo saying, “Sorry, Richard, this is the dumbest f*cking thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life.”
Thankfully, even without a proper hero, the villain of Richard Heart is enough to save the reality of the situation.
Hypocrisy and Down Only
Richard Heart is a Louis Vuitton duffle bag of hypocrisy. Scammers will tell you to trust them, he’ll say, and follow it unironically with, “Trust me.”
“I want to be loved,” he says, then admits that obnoxiously flaunting his wealth is how he attracts attention. He attacks the current system, then builds something he claims is an identical product but, ya know, better.
There is a telling moment early in The Highest of Stakes where RG3 says, “Hex is the first real cryptocurrency that actually does something: generates yield.” Generating yield isn’t something you can just do — it comes at a price, always.
Bonds, stocks, and certificates of deposits depend on certain investments, parameters, and market conditions — companies and governments providing real value. Thinking that magically generating yield provides a service is about as uninformed as it gets, and provides the backdrop for why Hex is more than a cult or a multi-level marketing scheme — it’s both.
This proves to be true in the film. RG3 has to deal with financial difficulties after telling his boss to eat dirt, Mikey literally bought the top and then lost even more money on ‘Pulsechain,’ and Heart looks like little more than an MLM slanging scammer. Hex and PulseChain remain on a downtrend.
Near the end of the film, Mikey’s wife Ramey laughs sadly into the camera and says, “At least I get to be right. How often is the wife right?”
I wish I could let Ramey know she’s been right all along.
The Highest of Stakes encapsulates crypto perfectly
Unlike my previous columns, titled So you don’t have to, the goal of this review isn’t to dissuade anyone from viewing The Highest of Stakes. I think this is a film — a documentation of our time — that is actually worth viewing.
I deeply disagree with the vague conclusion of the film, which avoided taking a stance and tried to leave a “what will happen next?” question hanging at the end. But attempts at neutrality fail in the wake of Heart’s off-putting personality and slew of hypocrisies.
The Highest of Stakes did a fantastic job of showing the insanity of the crypto industry, the narcissism of some of those most entrenched, and why everyone needs to be careful when dipping their toes into the speculative craziness that is cryptocurrency.
Go watch it.