Streaming on Apple TV and Amazon on Feb. 19.
27-year-old idealist, Ross Ulbricht (Nick Robinson) has always wanted to change the world. He has just abandoned another one of his ideas, to his father’s frustration. Hell-bent on offering
freedom through anonymity, Ross
develops Silk Road, an anonymous online ordering system for drugs using the dark web and Bitcoin.
Meanwhile, Rick Bowden (Jason Clarke), a veteran cop who has received a rare second chance, is assigned a desk job in a cyber-crimes unit.
As Ross gets his illegal online drug business running smoothly, Rick begins using tried and true police methods to track down Ross.
As these two begin their cat and mouse game, it quickly becomes evident that one is the hunter and the other is the prey.
“Silk Road” is an odd story. Based in truth, this tale recounts the development of an online illegal drug dispensary using the notorious dark web. Unfortunately, the filmmaker struggled to create someone for which to root.
Ross is a bright kid (stressing the “kid”) who, instead of using his intellect and focus to develop something memorable, decides to make himself memorable – notoriously so. As his girlfriend and best friend counsel him with common sense, he pushes on with vigor and naiveté.
Writer/Director Tiller Russell presents the film with a skilled eye and unusual editing, but the story he tells lacks a good guy and context. There is little detail about Silk Road, partly because it all takes place in cyberspace. This creates a problem.
Ross may be making lots of money, but we never see him benefitting from it, and we never see him frightened that the authorities might be onto him — until it’s too late. In addition, Rick Bowden is shown as a flawed hero. Although they offer a line about doing a little bad thing for a greater good, Bowden is still an unlikeable character who does many little bad things for a small greater good.
The fact that Ross is portrayed as a naive realist who is only trying to give people freedom through anonymity doesn’t create sympathy. Viewers have no reason to root for this young, overly-confident kid. He wasn’t creating anything of value to society. He was trying to flip the bird to The Man and become rich with it. The portrayal of both characters as flawed is fine, but it felt as if Russell was working too hard to find the silver lining in all of this when “Silk Road” could have been more of a dark, cautionary tale.
“Silk Road” is an interesting true story that suffers from the wrong orientation. Instead of showing the pitfalls of using tech for the wrong reasons, we are offered a sad tale of men trying to do the right thing through the wrong means.