Silk Road tells the shocking real-life story of Ross Ulbricht, the man who set up the anonymous online marketplace named Silk Road where people could buy and sell illegal drugs online. The story itself plays out like a thriller and it’s actually quite a successful and tense one. Although, as is often the case with films based on true events, it does leave you wondering just quite how much is true and how much isn’t, particularly as it opens with the words “The film is a product of journalistic research and wild flights of fiction” appearing on screen. They’ve probably taken quite a bit of dramatic license here, but the story is actually rather entertaining, and an engaging thriller nonetheless.
Silk Road chronicles the young and motivated Ross Ulbricht (Love, Simon’s Nick Robinson) as he sets up the internet’s first unregulated marketplace to sell drugs in 2011. But soon after he sets it up, it begins to gain popularity and whilst Ulbricht doesn’t know it yet, he’s now got the unpredictable and troubled DEA agent Rick Bowden (Jason Clarke) on his back trying to shut him down by any means necessary.
Silk Road starts off a little bumpy as it jumps about between a few different time periods with things like “3 years later” popping up on screen every so often. It also jumps around locations, switching between Robinson’s young mastermind and Jason Clarke’s law enforcer and it can be a bit much and a little confusing. Whilst it’s necessary that they set up these two characters as they’re both integral, there’s a bit too much back and forth in the opening, and all this jumping about can feel a bit dizzying. That being said, Nick Robinson and Jason both give excellent performances which is just enough to sustain your interest at the start with all the jumping back and forth.
However, once things get going and once Ulbricht has set up his “Amazon for drugs” it begins to get much more exciting, and it starts going places. As the plot goes on the stakes start rising as there’s much more on the line and it keeps building up right until the conclusion, and ultimately it makes for a solid, entertaining thriller that will keep you engaged.
Despite being engaging and entertaining, there are still some problems with it. For one, it’s really light on details about the Silk Road site itself and quite how it works and how it was set up. We briefly see a YouTube tutorial on Tor; the way that someone accesses the dark web. And there’s a quick mention about bitcoin but otherwise, in a film called Silk Road, they didn’t seem to spend particularly long on the details of Silk Road itself and the creation of the site just seemed to happen within a few minutes of screen time. Whilst this enables us to get straight to the more exciting bits of DEA agent Bowden trying to track down Ulbricht, they could have spent a bit longer explaining some more details about Silk Road.
Silk Road is a slick, entertaining thriller that provides just enough entertainment to get through the 117 minute runtime, although there are still a few issues and problems with some of the storytelling.
Silk Road is available now on digital platforms from Vertigo Releasing.