Silk Road (2021) Movie Review

From writer-director Tiller Russell, Silk Road has the makings of a gripping thriller, but it surprisingly lacks the tension to make it work.

Silk Road, based on a true story – “except for what [the filmmakers] invented or modified ”- and adapted from Rolling stone article by David Kushner, opens with an excellent setup. Drug lord Ross Ulbricht is a libertarian who wants to change the world and believes that people who take control and easy access to an assortment of drugs are the best way to start “taking back our freedom”. Of course, anyone familiar with the story knows how it turns out for them and the movie ultimately follows the same path. From writer-director Tiller Russell, Silk Road has the makings of a gripping thriller, but it surprisingly lacks the tension to make it work.

Ross (Nick Robinson) has all of these fanciful ideas about changing the world, leaning on the old mundane arguments that America has lost its “compass.” To allow the company to regain control of the government, Ross is launching a dark web service he describes as “Amazon Against Drugs.” Sellers can advertise any medications they want, including meth, and buyers can buy and review the seller after the transaction. The drugs would then be delivered by courier. This is all very convenient and incredibly illegal despite Ross’s intentions for the site, aptly called “Silk Road,” Ross forcing himself Dread Pirate Roberts to The princess to marry. Naturally, his business caught the eye of Rick Bowden (Jason Clarke), a DEA agent who was previously in rehab and sentenced to jail for stealing bitcoin. Bowden, a character made for the purposes of this movie, isn’t about to let Ross shoot one at him, and thus begins a tense online exchange between him and the Ship Lord.

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Silk Road movie review
Jason Clarke in Silk Road

Silk Road barely erases the surface of Ross’s motives. He was never really interested in changing the world to make it better, and much of what he did was more selfish than anything. There are glimpses into Ross’s personal life that suggest he’s trying to mark the world to gain his father’s acceptance, to be seen by him perhaps. The film, however, isn’t very interested in going into anything deeper. Even when Julia (Alexandra Shipp) mentions that her website benefits the poor and drug addicts, a statement that is perhaps meant to instill a semblance of guilt in Ross, it falls flat because the film does not engage in the argument of everything.

It’s as if the movie lingers on the edge, but refuses to delve deeper into the effects of Ross’s actions. The film could have been an engaging drama that flirts with the morals of its characters, but finds itself too immersed in the back and forth between Ross and Rick to explore anything else entirely. So much that Silk Road often feels misguided in its execution. To be sure, the story is based on some fascinating actual event and one which in every way should make for an interesting film. However, the film doesn’t invest in proper build-up and fails to escalate and encapsulate the intensity and tension of Ross’s rise and fall as a drug lord on the dark web.

Silk Road movie review
Nick Robinson and Alexandra Shipp in Silk Road

The film is reinforced by a particularly strong performance from Clarke, of whom Rick is described as a likeable character, a man who has made a lot of mistakes in the past, but who ultimately tries to be there for his family. Clarke gives a nuanced performance, elevating Rick as the strongest character in a story he wasn’t originally a part of. On the other hand, there’s Robinson, who’s generally a good actor, but ill-equipped to deliver more than a cursory reading of Ross. Whether it’s because the material just isn’t there to offer him more or not isn’t clear, but Robinson struggles to balance his character’s philosophy and vulnerability, which makes his performance disappointing.

Silk Road gives the impression of being inspired by Social network, but with a murder side and a lot more illegal chaos. Plus, Ross’s passionate statements about empowering people and standing up for something are worded in a way that practically excuses his behavior and justifies his actions. One also wonders why this particular story had to be told this way, if at all, if it wasn’t going to dig a little deeper. Silk Road is surely convincing and has a lot of potential, but it is unbalanced and lacks suspense. With tighter writing and editing, the movie would have been a lot stronger.

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Silk Road is now playing in select theaters and is available on demand and digitally. The film is 117 minutes long and is rated R for its ubiquitous language and drug content.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments!

Our rating:

2.5 out of 5 (fairly good)

  • Silk Road (2021)Release date: Feb 19, 2021

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