Reality-based thriller Silk Road fails to scratch beneath the surface of 'the first millennial gangster'

A conflicted DEA agent (Jason Clarke) targets the young maverick (Nick Robinson) responsible for constructing an online pipeline for illicit drugs in the crime drama Silk Road

Silk Road is based on the real life case of 'internet crime kingpin' Ross Ulbricht
Damon Smith

SILK ROAD (15, 112 mins) Thriller/Drama/Romance. Jason Clarke, Nick Robinson, Alexandra Shipp, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Paul Walter Hauser, Jimmi Simpson, Katie Aselton, Daniel David Stewart, Lexi Rabe, Will Ropp. Director: Tiller Russell.

Released: March 22 (streaming on all major platforms)

PLAYFULLY billed as a "product of journalistic research and wild flights of fiction", Silk Road dramatises the hunt for an authority-flouting entrepreneur, who established an illegal underground marketplace dubbed 'Amazon for drugs'.

David Kushner's 2014 magazine article Dead End On Silk Road: Internet Crime Kingpin Ross Ulbricht's Big Fall gives writer-director Tiller Russell plentiful food for thought as he zig-zags between the twentysomething target, who claims to be using "the internet as an instrument of liberty", and a morally flawed DEA agent on his trail.

This game of cat and mouse in the digital space has the makings of a gripping thriller and the opening scene of Silk Road – a covert operation to take down Ulbricht and seize his laptop – establishes a nerve-jangling, brisk pace.

Unfortunately, those initial droplets of tension evaporate as Russell struggles to chart a clear, concise path through the twists and turns in the case, dividing time between hunter and naive prey.

Love, Simon star Nick Robinson fails to scratch beneath the surface of "the first millennial gangster" who impulsively orders a hit to cover his tracks, unaware that the shadowy facilitator with screenname @nob is a cunning law enforcer.

Jason Clarke suffers a similar fate as the old-school DEA agent with compromised integrity, who is reassigned to the bright young things of cyber crime when he barely understands the basics of email or the internet.

"I may be old and slow but I ain't stupid," Rick Bowden tells his 26-year-old supervisor (Will Ropp) as he acclimatises to high-tech new surroundings.

Following a visit to one of his informants (Darrell Britt-Gibson), Bowden begins gathering evidence on Silk Road, which is generating 1.2 million US dollars a day through the anonymous sale of narcotics.

Site owner Ross Ulbricht (Robinson) ignores the dire warnings of girlfriend Julia (Alexandra Shipp) and best friend Max (Daniel David Stewart) to obsessively expand his empire with the help of one of his most trusted vendors (Paul Walter Hauser).

Alas, Ross makes a series of fatal missteps in pursuit of idealism and he predicts his own downfall: "Sooner or later, someone's gonna come knocking."

Meanwhile, agent Bowden neglects his wife Sandy (Katie Aselton) and young daughter (Lexi Rabe) to doggedly hunt Ross and prove that justice operates most effectively on the ground, not in front of a computer screen.

Silk Road distils Bowden's involvement in Ulbricht's downfall to a pedestrian plod starved of nail-biting thrills. Russell's script offers scant insight to the complex, gnarled psyches of either man and provides few signposts to guide the uninitiated through the murky world of the dark web and cryptocurrency.

Clarke and Robinson look suitably haunted as their adversaries fall victim to paranoia and hubris and pay excessively for their crimes.

RATING: 2stars

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