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An FBI agent looks at a huge roll of cash.

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Emily Clark

Movie Review

About 10 years ago, a website was created on the dark web called the “Silk Road.” It was one of the first black-market websites ever created, specializing in illegal drug dealing.

Ross Ulbricht created the Silk Road. A staunch libertarian tired of being told what he could do with or put into his body, Ross taught himself how to code using YouTube videos. Thus “eBay for drugs” was born.

A few states away, Rick Bowman, recently reassigned to the cybercrimes unit after getting busted for drug use while working for the DEA, discovers the Silk Road.

Rick just wants to prove himself again. He may have gotten in over his head while hunting down drug lords, but he’s clean now and just wants to stop the bad guys. Unfortunately, nobody is really listening to Rick. The only reason he’s still on the force is because his boss cut a deal so Rick could retire in nine months and get his pension.

Despite being told to sit back and let the millennials do all the work, Rick continues to track down Ulbricht, using a mix of old-fashioned police work and his newfound knowledge of the Internet (ironically, also learned from YouTube videos).

Of course, once he catches Ross, the real question is this: Will Rick turn him in or manipulate him for money?

Positive Elements

Rick apologizes to his wife for not being there for her and reassures his daughter that she is loved.

Spiritual Elements

Someone calls Silk Road a “heaven” for drug users. Rick chooses his online alias from a passage in the Bible. Rick calls one of Ross’s employees an “apostle.”

Sexual Content

Ross and his girlfriend, Julia, kiss several times throughout the film. We also see them wake up in bed together after having sex the night before. (He is shirtless, and we see her in a shirt and underwear.) Rick also kisses his wife several times. Some women wear revealing outfits. Ross removes his shirt to swim.

Someone talks about “consensual sodomy,” defending gay marriage. We hear about people watching pornography. There is also a crude verbal reference to masturbation and male genitals.

Violent Content

Ross insists that Silk Road should never be used for things that can harm others—such as “kiddie porn” and murder for hire. However, the website eventually sells assault rifles, and Ross himself hires Rick to kill two people. And although Rick doesn’t actually kill anyone, he does rough up Ross’s only employee, dunking his head in a bathtub multiple times as a form of torture.

We learn that Rick wrecked his car and put innocent people in danger because he drove under the influence of cocaine. We also see a news story about a teenager who died after jumping off his balcony because the drugs he took made him believe he could fly.

When Julia attempts to close Ross’s laptop, he smacks her hand, but immediately apologizes for his roughness. We see police drawing guns on several criminals. Rick implies that he saved a man from getting sexually assaulted in jail. Someone threatens to break a man’s nose.

Crude or Profane Language

We hear the f-word nearly 200 times (15 preceded by “mother”). The s-word is used an additional 70 times (as well as seeing it written on screen), and we hear the c-word and n-word six times each. God’s name is misused eight times (three times paired with “d–n”), and Christ’s name is misuses another three (once paired with the f-word). We hear three uses of a crude slang term for oral sex, and many other milder profanities as well.

When Rick curses in front of his daughter, she chastises him.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Ross vehemently opposes the regulation of drug use, believing that as long as people aren’t using drugs to hurt people, they should be allowed to take anything they want. So, he creates the Silk Road website almost exclusively to deal illegal drugs. We see these drugs on screen as people purchase them, and we also witness people smoking marijuana.

Julia protests when she realizes that some of Ross’s customers are drug addicts and poor people, but he argues that the majority of his clientele are college graduates. However, we see a news story about a teenager perishing after taking LSD.

hWe learn that Rick worked for the DEA but got addicted to drugs while undercover, resulting in him going to rehab.

People drink alcohol throughout the film (and Rick’s wife gets drunk twice). When Ross drinks too much at a party, his friend asks if he needs a ride, which he waves off (though it appears he doesn’t actually drive himself anywhere).

Some people smoke cigarettes.

Other Negative Elements

Ross takes libertarian political philosophy to an extreme, deliberately taking actions that weaken the “power” of the state. He creates the Silk Road in an attempt to give power back to the people by allowing them to choose whether or not they purchase and use illegal drugs. However, when Ross’s friends try to tell him that the website is getting out of hand and allowing dangerous people to deal drugs laced with chemicals and weapons, he ignores them.

Both Ross and Rick become so consumed by their work that they neglect the people they care about. And while Rick tries to justify his obsession since he is trying to save lives, his wife and daughter still pay the price; his wife mostly raises their daughter alone, and Rick misses an important interview that would have gotten his daughter a scholarship to a special-needs school.

The cybercrimes unit mocks Rick for his ineptitude with computers. His boss ignores Rick’s attempts to inform him about the Silk Road operation. [Spoiler Warning] And when Rick finally gets sick of the disrespect, he turns to crime himself, essentially stealing money from police evidence in order to pay for his daughter’s school.

We hear rude jokes about “border crossers” and “extra chromosomes.” We learn that Rick called someone “retarded” despite having a daughter with a learning disability. We also hear a few racist comments. People lie and steal. Someone vomits. We see the various ways that dealers sneak drugs through the U.S. Postal Service.

Conclusion

Silk Road is based on a true story—though the opening title card states that some of the film is changed or even made up.

Rick Bowman—the “Jurassic Narc”—and Ross Ulbricht are both men just trying to do what they believe is right. However, their versions of “right” are incredibly flawed.

Ross states early on that he believes the war on drugs is a “farce.” According to him, “If you wanna smoke a bowl, snort a line, pop a pill, that is your prerogative.” And even after he starts to see the negative side effects of the anonymous black marketplace he creates (such as people dying from using drugs laced with more dangerous chemicals), he sticks to his guns, insisting that it’s somehow better for people to seize their liberty.

Rick’s persistence in tracking down Ross could almost be seen as admirable. But it starts to affect his family poorly. And rather than take a back seat as his bosses repeatedly tell him to, he lets his pride take over, determined to be the one who catches Ross.

Ultimately, both men get arrested: Ross for dealing illegal drugs and Rick for trying to help him. They thought that by doing a little wrong, they could do a great right. However, as Ross ultimately discovers, just because you give people the freedom to do whatever they want, doesn’t mean that they’ll use that freedom for good.

Silk Road obviously deals heavily with drug use and the discussion surrounding which drugs should be illegal and why. There is also a smattering of violence and lots of illegal activities taking place. However, with f-words hitting triple digits, the brutal, incessant vulgarity here is the real deal-killer along the Silk Road.  

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Emily Clark
Emily Clark

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.