A friend of mine was telling me all about a Netflix documentary he loved about the Night Stalker (Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer). I was surprised that the filmmaker behind that, Tiller Russell, is the one who gave us Silk Road. It’s his first narrative feature, based on a David Kushner article about Ross Ulbricht, who created a website on the dark web that helped folks buy drugs. The part of the story I’m not sure I buy is about the DEA agent. Rick Bowden (Jason Clarke, who is perfect for this role) is a cop that got into some trouble. He’s able to get his job back on the force but is given a desk job in cyber security. Since he doesn’t really know how to use computers, they tell him he can just kick back in his office, until he serves nine more months and can receive his pension. The younger boss he has isn’t the least bit believable, the way he always talks down to Bowden, but hey…this is how they do stories in Hollywood. People are often over the top with their personalities. Subtlety can work so much better sometimes.
As much as I loved the grittiness Clarke brings to the role, I also loved Nick Robinson (Love, Simon) as Ross Ulbricht. There are times he seems arrogant as he spouts his Libertarian views. There are other times he looks naive and in way over his head. His facial hair also looks utterly ridiculous. Perhaps some won’t care for him in this role, as we all remember how great Jesse Eisenberg was a decade ago in The Social Network.
The timing for this is perfect, as we keep hearing more about Bitcoin, and one of the things Ulbricht does is allow his site visitors to use Bitcoin to make drug purchases anonymously.
Bowden decides to try to do some work in the cyber department when he finds out about this website. He hooks up with a small-time criminal named Rayford (Darrell Britt-Gibson), who was an informant for him previously. Watching Rayford rib him for his lack of knowledge about the internet is rather amusing, and feels realistic.
Bowden uses his old school techniques to track down the people involved, although his boss, now involved in this case, simply dismisses his findings (don’t they always?).
Another great casting choice is Paul Walter Hauser (Richard Jewell, I, Tonya). He plays a drug dealer making serious coin with his new business selling mushrooms on the internet.
Some of the characters needed to be fleshed out a bit better. For example, Ross’ girlfriend Julia (Alexandra Shipp, who was also in Love, Simon), is relegated to being frustrated by Ross who is always on his computer when she’s made him a fancy dinner, or his being concerned about an aspect of his website when she’s told him how dangerous this all is. The scenes with her nagging him were rather repetitive.
It’s a bit more interesting watching Ross deal with his best friend Max (Daniel David Stewart). He goes from being enthusiastic about how much money Ross is making, to being bummed their friendship is pushed to the back burner. He’s only called when his computer experience is needed.
The first half of this movie was so intriguing, but in the second half, the flaws just started to pile up. For example, Bowden, who should be on his best behavior with his wife (as she stood by him when he was in rehab for drug use)…instead misses an important event regarding their daughter getting into a school. She’s furious at him for not showing up. I just wondered why…she didn’t call him on his cell and ask where he was?
You’re on the edge of your seat enough to enjoy watching this all unfold, despite the missteps. My wife and I were entertained watching it.
2 ½ stars out of 5.