Director Tiller Russell, whose documentary The Night Stalker proved a hit on Netflix, delivers his latest delve into true crime, with a dramatisation of infamous drug lord Ross Ulbricht’s dark web empire, in Silk Road.
Just how true to Ulbricht’s rise and eventual fall and imprisonment does Silk Road stay? Well, roughly one whole minute into the film, text shows on the screen promising the movie “is a product of journalistic research,” followed immediately by the addition “and wild flights of fiction.”
Uneasily shifting between the present and the past, Silk Road tells the story – lifted from the protagonist’s journal – of Ulbricht’s dark-web website of the same name. The site balloons into a marketplace for hard drugs, and the problems and drama multiply from there. The online gangster, played by Nick Robinson, is inexplicably gifted control of the narrative for large swathes, with Russell contrasting this story with the fate of a fictitious (if based loosely on two government officials involved in the case) DEA agent named Rick Bowden (Jason Clarke). The pairing of narratives seems to function to compare vices, for Bowden implicates himself in corruption and is driven by greed and his questionable moral fibre.
Ulbricht’s continual voiceover offers him a platform to espouse his manifesto of fanatical free-market libertarianism. It makes for an uncomfortable, awkward watch. Is this production a paean to his brand of ultimate freedom? The character isn’t made entertaining or relatable enough, despite the pronouncement of artistic freedom at the very beginning. Nor is there enough evidence to say the film denounces his actions. Instead Silk Road sits uncomfortably as a biopic missing some truths and purpose.
Silk Road is released digitally on demand on 22nd March 2021.
Watch the trailer for Silk Road here: