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‘Silk Road’ review: The rise and fall of a darknet marketplace

Tor, Bitcoin, and mental gymnastics.

Silk Road is based on the true events that led to the rise and fall of the eponymous darknet site. Directed by Tiller Russell, the movie follows Ross Ulbricht (Nick Robinson). The young entrepreneur creates a free marketplace that becomes an unregulated location for illicit drugs. As the site becomes more profitable, a dangerous DEA agent (Jason Clarke) comes looking for Ross.

The movie has the instant allure of an idealistic criminal who thumbs his nose at the government. These are the kinds of characters that audiences to intrigue audiences to the point of impressing them. Russell portrays Ulbricht differently, however. Silk Road constantly has the audiences asking if Ulbricht truly believed in what he was saying or were they just a convenient way to mask the crimes he was committing?

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On the one hand, it seems ridiculous. Even Ulbricht does not seem to believe some of the things he says, such as his claim that people who know how to mask their IP addresses are too smart to get addicted to drugs. Yet, Silk Road also paints him as someone who truly wanted to change the world. It is an interesting dichotomy that brings life to the sometimes drab character.

On the other end of the cat and mouse is DEA agent Rick Bowden. Bowden brings another contrast to Silk Road. The disgraced agent is unfamiliar with technology and what he is dealing with. His investigation is a neat mix of old school detective work and the digital age. He also comes off as the more passionate of the two characters.

Silk Road’s story is a suspenseful watch. As is often the case in these types of movies, the criminal mastermind is always one step ahead of law enforcement. Adding to the tension is how Bowden keeps making things more difficult for himself due to his methods. This is par for the course for the genre and Russell does a wonderful job of not making it seem derivative.

The film does suffer from a lack of strong supporting characters. None of them are really fleshed out and are more placeholder roles. This is especially surprising considering how well the rest of the story is. The film is filled with twists and turns. Silk Road is a strong enough thriller that audiences will remain riveted the entire time.

Silk Road premieres on digital, on demand, and in select theaters February 19.

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