Another movie: Silk Road

Silk Road is a fairly new movie released back in February to overall lukewarm reviews.

It tries to tell the story of a fellow named Ross Ulbricht, who was the mastermind behind the darknet site Silk Road. Silk Road was a website that dealt with selling drugs, and was a story that had potential. But in the end the film was pretty boring.

The principal medium in this movie is the computer, in the sense that the subject of the story, Silk Road, was a website which exchaged illegal drugs for bitcoin, that could only be accessed with a Tor browser. So it is not an action movie by any stretch. Lots of focusing on the website, and the fact that it specialized in selling illegal drugs with bitcoin. Also, much was made of Ulbricht’s ideological musings, that he fancied himself to be the world’s saviour. This is all fine. The internet and the computer field is full of people professing to be people’s saviours, to varying degrees of legitimacy, ranging from Bill Gates, to Richard Stallman.

Alexandra Shipp, who plays Julia; and Nick Robinson, who plays Ross Ulbricht.

The medium of film does a better job focusing on people than on websites and the exchange of contraband for bitcoin. There are only so many screenshots, and so many US Post delivery trucks that you can film that would get the point across. Ulbricht seems to come across as a bit of a self-absorbed dick, but you kind of expect that from someone who thinks he can dance between the raindrops of the internet underworld without getting wet. We are never allowed to see deeper into Ulbricht than that; we don’t seem to be allowed to see much insight into his relationship with Julia Vie to feel any tension or for that matter much depth of emotion for either party after their relationship falls apart. But when she told him to leave, you got the feeling he had it coming for some time.

The entire movie seems to be similarly lacking in depth. Officer Rick Bowden, a creation of the movie writers to create a tension between old-school and new, begins to get caught up investigating the massive narcotics trafficking scheme that is Silk Road. He is portrayed as a narcotics officer out of rehab who had been reassigned to cybercrime.

Officer Rick Bowden, played by actor Jason Clarke

While the movie was factual, Bowden was intended to be an amalgamation of two or more officers, who ended up with 6 years in jail for their dealings on Silk Road. Ulricht himself was given a life imprisonment without parole, which bears out in news accounts.

The movie made few attempts to make a case why I should care about Ulricht, the mastermind behind Silk Road – beyond Ulricht’s wide-eyed youthful naivete; few attempts to give us reason to care about officer Rick’s street smarts or to give us any sense that any of the characters had any appreciation of him by the end. That fell flat too. In fact, we are mostly only allowed to see his more buffoonish side as a cop, leaving us to think that his abilities as a Narc were no better than his abilities as an internet sleuth. Also, there was not enough depth given to the Dark Web or Tor browsers or encryption technology or Bitcoin, to give the film any “Geek cred”, so it fell flat there also. It is a wishy-washy film that appears to alienate every demographic equally.

Silk Road is never outright tasteless; and the story is not too hard to follow. You are guaranteed to never be at the edge of your seat for any reason. If you want an afternoon or evening of feeling comfortably numb with a fairly easy-to-follow story, you’ve come to the right place. If you were looking for a thrilling movie that would make you think about the complex issues of cybercrime, or that would challenge Ulbricht’s twisted libertarian beliefs that ultimately put him behind bars … this isn’t it. I would give it two stars out of five.

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