Review: Website to buy drugs yields lame thriller with 'Silk Road'

Based on a true story, 'Silk Road' never paves a convincing path

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

The dark web thriller "Silk Road" plays fast and loose with the facts, and wants viewers to know as much up front: "this story is true," reads an on-sceen disclaimer at the top of the film, "except for what we made up or changed."

It's not immediately clear what's been made up or changed or who benefits from the alterations. But that's the least of the problems with this convoluted story that never picks a point of view or decides what it's trying to say, other than presenting the ABCs of the case, which by the filmmakers' own admission it's unconcerned with depicting accurately. 

Nick Robinson in "Silk Road."

"Love, Simon's" Nick Robinson plays Ross Ulbricht, a web developer who comes up with a website to sell illicit substances, or "Amazon for drugs," as it's stated in its most blunt terms. It's not about the drugs, per se, it's more about Ross thumbing his nose at the powers that be that say you can't set up a website to sell drugs online. It's about freedom, man, as he explains in any number of speeches that pass as character development in writer-director Tiller Russell's screenplay, which is based on a Rolling Stone article. 

Jason Clarke plays Rick Bowden, a disgraced DEA agent put out to pasture in the cyber crimes division, after a previous assignment went south. Rick uses Rayford (Darrell Britt-Gibson), his one and only contact in the field, to help him track down Ross, which doesn't prove all that hard. He colors a bit outside the lines in his relationship to Ross, landing them both in hot water, although Rick's motivations — is he just a reckless cowboy? — are never satisfactorily explained.

"Silk Road" is tech thriller cosplay; Robinson's Ross wears hoodies and stubble on his face and says vague things about internet freedom, so he must be a vanguard, right? There's a story to be told about the intersection of online commerce and personal liberties, but this isn't it. "Silk Road" leads nowhere.


'Silk Road'


Rated R: pervasive language, and drug content

Running time: 116 minutes

In theaters and on VOD