Solid actors deliver substandard performances in this crime drama that's executed like a made-for-TV movie from the '90s -- but the cautionary true story is absolutely astonishing. It's a fascinating example of psychology in real life. Ulbricht is depicted as a kid who always had big ideas but never saw them through to the end. He's a little lost, trying to find his path. As Silk Road tells it, his father chided him for his lack of follow-through. Eventually, emboldened by his libertarian political outlook, Ulbricht comes up with the big idea to start an Amazon-like marketplace for illegal products and services. He's the type of person who talks everyone's ear off about how Americans' liberty and freedom are being infringed upon by the U.S. government, a perspective that may appeal to certain viewers (including teens). His posturing as a deep thinker attracts both friends and a girlfriend (Alexandra Shipp), who mostly stick with him despite their moral objections.
Ulbricht is made out to be someone who's somewhat deserving of viewers' compassion, ordering hits on potential enemies out of fear and feeling really, really bad about it. This approach isn't compatible with the Rolling Stone article the movie is adapted from, and the film seems to deviate even further when it comes to the story about fictionalized DEA agent Bowden. That matters, because Bowden's story is presented on equal terms with Ulbricht's -- and the psychology of his seems grittier and, to some degree, more clichéd. He's a washed-up detective who's this close to retirement but solves the case by making risky choices in the face of disrespect from colleagues. Some moments also veer into thriller territory, possibly leaving audiences yelling at the screen, "DON'T DO IT!" The question ultimately becomes: Will teens see Silk Road as a lesson to stay off life's slippery slopes, or will they be inspired by Ulbricht's big-money success, and think, "If it were me, I wouldn't get caught"?