Silk road tells the true story of Ross Ulbricht; the infamous dark web mastermind better known as his online nickname “Dread Pirate Roberts”. Ulbricht, a brazen egomaniac with an ultra-libertarian, anti-government philosophy, created the “Silk Road”, an incomprehensible Amazonian marketplace for narcotics and illegal goods on the Internet. The film chronicles his meteoric rise and fall along with the unknown DEA agent who originally found him. Silk road has a Wikipedia-style choppy narrative that explores the radical extremes of both men. It could have used a more cinematic flow, but it’s certainly interesting to watch.
We’ll meet first Ross Ulbricht (Nick Robinson) in a San Francisco bar around 2011. He scolds his best friend (Daniel David Stewart) against the government for restricting personal freedoms. His shame attracts the attention of fetching Julia (Alexandra Shipp). She is impressed by his bold demeanor and ideology. Ulbricht wants to change the world. He really believes he is meant for greatness.
Meanwhile, DEA agent Rick Bowden (Jason Clarke) is being released from drug rehabilitation and mental health care in Baltimore. He returns to his wife (Katie Aselton) and young daughter (Lexi Rabe) who are still suffering from his inner demons. Bowden’s persistent, tough personality got him into serious trouble. He has been transferred from covert operations to desk work at the Cybercrime Department.
Ross Ulbricht despised Jeff Bezos and Amazon, but liked their business model. He, Julia, and her friends were all recreational drug users. He has the brilliant idea of organizing an anonymous drug exchange in the Tor network. Buyers and sellers would use the cryptocurrency Bitcoins to pay for transactions. Ulbricht designs the Silk road The market and popularity rise as “Dread Pirate Roberts” to a legion of global admirers.
The Silk road The website is a top priority for DEA and FBI. But the dark web anonymity protected the true identity of “Dread Pirate Roberts”. Rick Bowden, struggling with family problems, plays brave. Completely unable to work with computers, he hires an old informant (Darrell Britt-Gibson) to help him navigate the dark Internet. Build up a series of events that would put him and Ross Ulbricht on a collision course.
Silk road jumps back and forth between Ulbricht and Bowden. The film highlights her aggressive behavior and dangerous need for approval. Ulbricht, who had failed in all previous efforts, was delighted with the success of the website. He kept it on government while making millions. Bowden couldn’t sit still until he retired. He had to be part of the action; Show the keyboard cops what real law enforcement looks like. Nick Robinson and Jason Clarke play Ulbricht and Bowden as obsessive narcissists. They were ready to push any limit to achieve their goals.
Writer / Director Tiller Russell (The final rites of ransom pride) adapted the film from David Kushner’s Rolling Stone article “Dead End on Silk Road”. Russell doesn’t believe in smooth editorial transitions. He uses still images and then hard cuts between the Ulbricht and Bowden storylines. The effect feels awkward to give an edge to the pace. The result is that the movie plays as jumbled chapters. I found it a stylistic annoyance that unnaturally dissolved the plot.
Tiller Russell has a specific view on Ross Ulbricht’s capture and government treatment thereafter. I do not agree with his assessment and editing decision, but can use the film for the summary of the Silk road Travel. Ross Ulbricht succumbed to crime and murderous intent but was indeed a visionary. His exploitation of the dark web and the use of cryptocurrency changed the world. Audience that is and is not familiar with Ulbricht Silk road Marktplatz will illuminate the film. Silk road is a production of Mutressa Films, Perfect Season Productions and High Frequency Entertainment. It will be released in theaters on February 19th and premium video upon request from Lionsgate.
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