VOD film review: Silk Road
How much you’ll want Jason Clarke to feed you after watching2
Possibility Clarke’s character eats steak every single night10
How much you’d rather watch a documentary7
Ian Loring | On 25, Mar 2021
Director: Tiller Russell
Cast: Nick Robinson, Jason Clarke, Alexandra Shipp
Watch Silk Road online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Virgin Movies / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
Looking bizarrely quaint in today’s world of NFTs, Silk Road seeks to teach us about “the eBay of drug dealing”, which ties in nicely to the world of cryptocurrency while also telling the story of an old-dog DEA agent being taught new tricks. This results in an odd bit of work that seems unsure of who it really wants to follow and who its sympathies lie with.
Jason Clarke, groomed as one of Hollywood’s new guard a few years ago, classes up the joint as the agent who is constantly being undermined by those around him and is the subject of ridicule, but later takes matters entirely out of the realms of what is sanctioned to get what matters to him. It’s a committed performance, full of world weariness and a haunted aspect that really makes the later material for his character sing.
The same can’t be said for Nick Robinson, who is saddled with a character who – despite the many monologues about how he wants people to live freely and choose whatever they want – never gets away from just being a guy who made money facilitating drug deals, which the film acknowledges did a fair bit of harm, and then gets in over his head. Robinson has shown real charisma in previous roles but that is very much lacking here, and that’s one thing the character badly needed for any sense of empathy (something the film obviously wants you to have in its closing moments). The less said about Alexandra Shipp the better, a good actress who is painfully underused here as “the nagging girlfriend”, a character who is 100 per cent trope despite also being one of the most sympathetic figures in the whole endeavour.
The film is at its best when it deals in escalation. Writer/director Russell shows a real understanding of building tension and a section involving Paul Walter Hauser (decent in a small role) is shocking but also, in a pure pulpy sense of film escapism, enjoyably tense. While the characters feel rather derivative, the situations they find themselves in are well handled – perhaps someone else writing the screenplay would have made for a film that came together more successfully.
Clarke is solid and Silk Road is an engaging enough watch, but for a film that seems to want to be a character study about the man behind the website, it doesn’t really hold together.