Silk Road opens with a title card: “This story is true. Except for what we made up or changed.” This sets an oddly light tone for a film that seems to be taking itself fairly seriously.

Ross Ulbricht (played by Nick Robinson of Love, Simon) and washed-up DEA agent Rick Bowden (Jason Clarke of The Great Gatsby) both feel they’ve wasted their lives. Bowden wants to pursue criminals the old-fashioned way (read, with little oversight), while Ulbricht is a marvel of the emerging dark web. Upon launching Silk Road—a site like eBay where drugs are trafficked in the name of libertarian freedom—Ulbricht senses impending arrests everywhere, while Bowden senses a chance at redemption.

To its credit, Silk Road is paced well and remains captivating throughout. It's just too bad the characters are all insufferable assholes whom you'd love to see tossed over a cliff. There's an inkling of a good story in the white-boy-takes-on-the-internet sub-genre (see Snowden and The Social Network), and while Silk Road doesn't bore per se, it never feels like it knows what it wants to be outside of moody.

The actors, bless them, give the film much more life than it might otherwise have had, yet the way it's shot—rough handicam, a dusty color scheme and an odd abundance of freeze frames—is more distracting than engaging. The camera sometimes rotates around subjects so fast, in fact, you might find yourself feeling a bit wobbly (I did). Still, when director Tiller Russell's understated naturalism shines from his actors, Silk Road starts to feel good-adjacent, even if the space for the actors to stretch into their roles a bit more is in short supply.

5

+ Chugs along at a good pace

– Ugly cinematography; odd editing choices; looks and feels cheap

Silk Road

Directed by Russell

With Clarke and Robinson

VoD, R, 112 min.