Silk Road: Film Review

Silk Road

You probably remember reading about Silk Road, the illegal online marketplace for drugs, in the headlines several years ago, right? Well, now you can learn more about its inception and what the heck happened to its founder Ross Ulbricht thanks to this new movie. 

Nick Robinson stars as Ulbricht, a young and driven libertarian who decided to set up an “Amazon for drugs” on the dark web using Tor (a browser) and Bitcoin (the currency) in 2011. This website is a huge hit and becomes a multi-million dollar marketplace, so it soon catches the attention of the FBI and the DEA who are determined to find out the identity of the owner and shut the site down. Disgraced DEA agent Rick Bowden (Jason Clarke), who has recently been relocated to a desk job in cybercrimes after a botched case, sets out to prove his old school approach still works in a world of tech-savvy agents and tries to find Ulbricht first, by any means necessary. 

The film, written and directed by Tiller Russell, tells the broad strokes of the story but doesn’t really dig deep enough and get under the skin of Ulbricht. Despite the lack of specificity and detail, I still found the film fascinating – but the real-life story does a lot of the work as it’s so shocking in itself. I didn’t think Russell delivered a film that matched the outrageousness of the real-life events but it’s still a gripping and sometimes thrilling watch. 

Even though Ulbricht is the most well-known criminal in this movie, the main antagonist is actually Bowden, whose actions surprised me the most. His approach to catching Ulbricht is illegal, morally questionable, and definitely not what an agent should be doing. We’ve seen Clarke play similar characters before but he does such a good job at them and he was very watchable. 

Robinson handled the evolution of Ulbricht very well. He starts off as this idealistic, philosophical type who believes he’s created something absolutely genius and then becomes increasingly obsessed with it as it grows and grows in popularity, with him neglecting his girlfriend Julia (Alexandra Shipp), and he becomes increasingly emotional, dishevelled, and anxious as his world crumbles down around him and the agents close in. 

Shipp doesn’t get to do much beyond being the fed-up neglected girlfriend, which is a shame, while Westworld’s Jimmi Simpson plays FBI agent Chris Talbert, who has no time for Bowden’s intel at meetings, and Paul Walter Hauser has a small but pivotal role as Silk Road user Curtis. 

Silk Road isn’t a terrible film by any means, it just doesn’t quite match up to the level of drama and thrill it could have achieved thanks to the real-life events. The cast did well and it’s still a gripping watch, but the story could have been developed a bit more. 

On digital platforms from Monday 22nd March 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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