The story of the Silk Road, an illegal online market for everything from drugs to guns, was screaming for an adaptation for some time now. I was excited when I saw Tiller Russell’s name attached to it. He directed some great documentaries like The Seven Five, Operation Odessa, and The Last Narc. I recommend you check them out as they are insanely fun and engaging, dealing with police corruption, drugs, and crazy schemes. Silk Road is his first real movie and I can honestly say it’s a decent one. Sure, there are a lot of cliches and the whole thing could have been better but this is still a movie worth watching.
Russel opted for a more vibrant and entertaining vibe with enough content to make you think and look up what really happened. Silk Road 2021, the movie is an approachable and easily understood thriller with great pacing. I think he made the right decision especially since this way I think a lot of people who weren’t familiar with the story will be able to get it. The production values are just a notch below what we’re used to seeing in those big biopics like The Social Network. There are also some lighting issues. The cast of Silk Road is, however phenomenal. Nick Robinson, who even looks like Ross Ulbricht was great but in my opinion, Jason Clarke stole the show here as the hard-boiled veteran detective Rick Bowden. And I should also mention incredibly talented Paul Walter Hauser whom you might remember from Richard Jewell.
Meet Ross Ulbricht, a smart young guy who wants to change the world we live in. He doesn’t know how, but he’s quite determined to find out. Soon things start falling into place as he decides to create an online market for any type of goods. This market does not have any regulations or taxes and everybody is free to sell and buy anything they want. The site has a slow start but after an article in a popular computer magazine, it blows up. This did not only bring a lot of new users but also attracted the attention of law enforcement…
When we’re talking about Silk Road, the subjects of freedom, war on drugs and government are inevitable. As I already mentioned, the movie Silk Road just glances over them, focusing on the story in the style of a television movie. This is where some of the issues start to surface. The pacing is kind of wobbly at times, especially when the sole focus is on Ross and his “personal drama” that seems too on-the-nose and simplistic. We know this is a character study as we follow the downward spiral of a really young guy, but the execution could have been better. The same goes for the Bowden’s subplot. The movie also struggles to keep the suspense as the intensity of the events that really happened clashes with the vibrant and almost care-free vibe of the movie.
I am saying all this from a perspective of an average movie fan. As someone who followed the rise and fall of the Silk Road closely, I found the movie to be a harrowing and engaging experience. Especially since I knew how it’s going to end. And I understand how someone who also invested in the real story could find the movie too simplistic and bland. However, we could have just as easily got a pretentious, overbearing, and preachy retelling of the story. So, ultimately, I think we did alright. Surely, this is just the first adaptation of the story of Silk Road and I expect there will be many.
Finally, let us talk a bit about the above-mentioned subjects. We’ll start with the drugs and the question of their legality. We all know that the War on Drugs was lost as soon as it started. It was just a combination of incompetency, public manipulation and exploitation, and a whole lot of scheming. In June 2011, the Global Commission on Drug Policy released a critical report on the War on Drugs, declaring: “The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.” More and more drugs are now legal across the world and the way people look at them and people who use them is changing. If you follow this topic I’m sure you know all the recent developments.
The question of freedom and government influence is a much more complex one, so we will have to leave for some other time. What is not complex is the perversion and completely bonkers ending of this entire mess that I hope will be changed in the future. If you would like to check out movies similar to Silk Road, I recommend: The Fifth Estate, Snowden, and Blackhat. And if you would like to explore both regular movies and documentaries with a similar, cyber theme I recommend this CyberCrime Magazine list. Below you can also find links for the Wiki pages about Ross and Silk Road but I recommend you check them out after you’ve seen the movie. Enjoy.
Wikipedia Link 1: Ross Ulbricht
Wikipedia Link 2: Silk Road
Director: Tiller Russell
Writer: Tiller Russell, David Kushner
Cast: Nick Robinson, Jason Clarke, Jimmi Simpson, Jennifer Yun, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Daniel David Stewart, Kenneth Miller, Alexandra Shipp
Fun Facts: Premiered almost a year later because of the pandemic.
IMDb Link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7937254/