• Nate Adams

Review: Cyberthriller 'Silk Road' a bumpy ride


Courtesy of Lionsgate

Following the exploits of Ross W. Ulbricht, who founded an elusive dark-web marketplace called Silk Road, Tiller Russell’s based-on-a-true-story cyberthriller is a bumpy ride that intermittently delivers facts amid clunky narrative progression. This unbelievable journey could have been aligned with “The Social Network,” but ends up stuck on a loop, dodging the meat and potatoes of Ulbricht’s legacy for more conventional, mainstream friendly, plot mechanics.


Nick Robinson plays Ulbricht, the mastermind behind Silk Road, which was an online store where illegal drugs were bought and sold around the clock. Russell’s nearly two hour long trek hits several snags and never brings the full scope (or impact) of Silk Road into the film (save for an occasional newsreel of lawmakers demanding its immediate shutdown). Ulbricht - a documented libertarian - justifies the creation of Silk Road as a way of fighting back against government regulators. While I appreciate the posh political commentary, Russell lacks the kick needed to weave that metaphor into how websites like Silk Road are created today.


Enter DEA Agent Rick Bowden (Jason Clarke - looking confused) who just returned from a deep stint undercover and is thirsty for his next catch. Tipped-off from an informant about Silk Road, Bowden starts a lengthy process to charge Ulbricht. What could have easily been a tense cat-and-mouse standoff similar to “Heat,” instead comes up unfulfilled. To his credit, Clarke finds the perfect rhythm for his character, but he’s lost in a screenplay that doesn’t know where to put him.


There’s a leaner, grittier film hiding in “Silk Road,” but it's buried underneath exposition and stylized flashbacks that graze over the truth. Robinson and Clarke collectively have a few good moments between them (and Paul Walter Hauser shows up briefly) except Russell doesn’t paint the whole picture of Silk Road’s rise and fall. Like a hastily put together greatest hits album, “Silk Road” has all the juicy bits, but none of the context for how it got there.


Grade: C-


Lionsgate will release SILK ROAD on Digital, On Demand & Select Theaters on February 19, 2021 and on Blu-Ray and DVD on February 23, 2021