Fresh off the success of his Netflix miniseries Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer, director Tiller Russell returns to the true crime genre in Lionsgate Silk Road. Russell adapts The Rolling Stone article "Dead End on Silk Road" by David Kushner, which told Ross Ulbricht's story and his success with the website Silk Road.
Silk Road opens with Ross (Nick Robinson) providing a voice-over about his success and money enjoyment. The film then takes us back on Ross's journey and how his fate ultimately transpired. The first act also introduces us to Rick Bowden (Jason Clarke) who a DEA agent fresh out of rehab. Known as the "Jurassic Narc" among his co-workers due to his old school methods in a digital world, Rick is on desk duty in the DEA cybercrimes division. We know that Rick and Ross will cross paths at some point, and Silk Road is all about the journey of getting to the meeting.
Tiller Russell's script shows us the early political views of Ross and paints him as a somewhat douche Millennial who talks too much. Nevertheless, he gains Julia's attention (Alexandria Shipp), and the two move in together. Over time, through casual conversation with his chum Max (Daniel David Stewart), Ross has the bright idea to start Silk Road on the darknet. On this site, customers can buy drugs with anonymity. The site uses Tor for anonymity and bitcoin as a currency. Naturally forgets Ross that with great power comes great responsibility.
Meanwhile, back in Baltimore, Rick is bored with his desk job. Hence, he reaches out to his former informant Rayford (Darrell Britt-Gibson) about the latest drug. When Rayford informs Rick of Silk Road, the agent sets out to take down Ross by any means necessary. Similar to Ross, Rick loses himself when it comes to Silk Road.
True stories and biopics are some of my favorite film genres. When I don't know about a particular subject's story being adapted for the screen, I avoid any research not to soil my viewing of the film. I hadn't read David Kushner's article, nor had I heard of Silk Road, but the film trailer intrigued me, and I'm a fan of the two lead actors. Nick Robinson is one of the best young actors under the age of thirty currently working. Robinson has always reminded me of a young John Cusack. Even with subpar material, as is the case with Silk Road, he will deliver a good performance.
Jason Clarke is reliable always and can play a role like this in his sleep. While I generally enjoyed Robinson in the lead role, Jason Clarke's performance is the one that carries the film. I enjoyed Clarke's scenes with his wife and the scenes with his informant. When Ross and Rick finally meet, the payoff is well worth the weight, given the pacing that Tiller Russell's script uses.
Tiller Russell is a talented director, but Silk Road's story suffers the same fate as other films in the genre. We hit all the familiar beats of rags to riches to rags story, but I feel like, with a miniseries, we could've gotten a more concise story. Nevertheless, I am going to madly recommended Silk Road from the strength of the lead performers.
Final Grade C
Silk Road is available VOD now. Also, the film will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray on February 23rd