Silk Road tells an extremely interesting story with great character development and performances, yet the script stops it from reaching true greatness.
Written by Becca Johnson
Based on a true story, the movie focuses on libertarian Ross Ulbricht (Nick Robinson) who in 2011 created the darknet website Silk Road, a website intended for the general public to anonymously buy and sell whatever they want. Of course, Silk Road became known best as a platform for selling illegal drugs.
Silk Road not only focuses on website creator Ross Ulbricht but also follows corrupt DEA agent Rick Bowden (Jason Clarke), who is determined to bring down the website by doing anything in his power. The two lead performances from Robinson and Clarke were believable at all times, managing to hold the attention of the audience resulting in becoming the movies highlight. What the script does manage to do well is allow a perfect amount of character development for both of them, as we follow them in their personal lives as well as their jobs. Ulbricht starts to face relationship dramas as he focuses more and more of his attention on the site and not his loved ones, and Bowden is fresh out of rehab, trying to be a good father and facing a huge career set back. Getting to know the two leads on a personal level definitely aids enjoyment, as well as good side performances from Darrell Britt-Gibson, Alexandra Shipp, and Paul Walter Hauser, who stole every scene he was in despite minimal screen-time.
It's impossible to deny that Silk Road tells an interesting story, but it's also questionable whether the information would be more digestible when presented in documentary format, such as 2015's Deep Web which performed well. Although it included good character development for our leads, the script was very hit or miss in its other aspects. It featured some nice humour here and there, yet a vast amount of cringe-worthy dialogue that takes you out of the story. The humour definitely worked better than drama/thriller elements, but this wasn't exactly the desired outcome. When following a story about the internet, its easy to fall into the trap of showing characters staring at computer screens for a large portion of the run-time. This is where a more compelling script would've balanced those scenes out nicely, but unfortunately this is not the case with Silk Road. If it wasn't for the character study, we could be watching a very bland piece of film.
Suffice it to say, it may not shock or fascinate like a documentary would've been able to, yet it manages to remain grounded, believable and engaging for the entire two hour run-time. If the character interactions and dialogue are taken with a pinch of salt, we have a tense thriller with occasional charming and funny moments, about one clever guy who believes strongly in freedom, and another guy who wants the best for both his family and his career. However, the script perhaps leads the audience to sympathise with the wrong people, dislike the wrong people and inevitably leave us underwhelmed. The performances are incredibly strong and are the saving grace of Silk Road, and it's definitely worth the watch for that alone.