Silk Road (Movie Review) – Jason Clarke & Nick Robinson

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

PLOT: The true story of Ross Ulbricht (Nick Robinson), creator of “Silk Road”, an online platform that worked as a kind of eBay for drugs, and the DEA agent (Jason Clarke) on his tail.

REVIEW: Silk Road is an interesting true-life tale that, nonetheless, is never quite as compelling as it should be. One of the reasons might be that, as we live in an era of epic docu-series, audiences have finally come around to the fact that real-life is far more compelling than any dramatization. A couple of years ago, this would have likely been a prestige project along the lines of something like Shattered Glass, but now it’s only a modest release from Lionsgate, with it hitting VOD this week.

Silk Road Nick Robinson

The story is a fascinating one. Nick Robinson makes for a convincing, ultimately insufferable Ross Ulbricht who thinks creating an online platform for drugs is the ultimate expression of his Libertarian ideals – never mind the fact that he’s getting ultra-rich in the process. He’s shown to be a fast-talking kid quick to impress his friends (including Alexandra Shipp as the cynical love interest who should know better) with his lofty ideals, even if he's ultimately willing to solicit murder to hold onto his money. It’s a decent role for the actor, who seems on the rise these days, especially following his stand-out turn on FX’s A Teacher. In Ulbricht's mind, people are going to buy drugs anyway, so why not buy them safely online? He tries to convince people it's a utopian ideal, but then again he collects a hefty brokers fee on each transaction. 

Ulbricht isn't the focus though. Rather, Silk Road’s protagonist is Jason Clarke as the so-called “Jurassic NARC” who tracked Ulbricht, despite having next to no knowledge of technology. He’s shown to be a recovering cokehead saddled with desk duty after blowing a sting by calling a suspect a “r*tard” in the middle of a bender. Clarke, who almost always plays sweaty, swarthy types, is well cast as the dangerously unpredictable cop, with his story going down a wholly unexpected path that I was sure was a Hollywood creation but turned out to be all-too-true.

Jason Clarke in Silk Road

The two are supported by the always entertaining Paul Walter Hauser, playing to type as a Silk Road troll who becomes Ulbricht’s second in command. While it would be nice to see Hauser get the chance to play against type someday, he’s expertly cast and gives the film some welcome comic relief.

My only real issue with Silk Road is the fact that director Tiller Russell, who comes from the documentary world (having recently done the Night Stalker docu-series on Netflix) relies on some corny editing tricks. This includes an over-reliance on freeze frames and fade-outs. The Ulbricht character also feels underdeveloped, and more could have been made of the ultimately draconian penalties imposed upon him. Otherwise, it’s a relatively entertaining look at a crazy true story, but if you want a deeper dive into what happened, there’s a documentary out there called Deep Web that’s directed by Alex Winter and, ultimately, is even more compelling than this dramatization.

Silk Road



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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.