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Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Tiller Russell
prd Duncan Montgomery, Alex Orlovsky, David Hyman, Stephen Gans, Jack Selby
with Jason Clarke, Nick Robinson, Alexandra Shipp, Paul Walter Hauser, Katie Aselton, Jimmi Simpson, Daniel David Stewart, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Lexi Rabe, Will Ropp, Raleigh Cain, Jennifer Yun
release US 19.Feb.21,
Is it streaming?
Identified at the start as a mix of fact and fiction, this snappy dramatic thriller holds the interest with its lively characters. The script recounts a police procedural from both sides, glibly encouraging us to root for everyone. Writer-director Tiller Russell resists moralising for the most part, breezing through a range of political issues, ethical dilemmas and interpersonal dramas. So even if it's fairly bog-standard stuff, it's entertaining.
In 2010 Baltimore, grizzled federal agent Rick (Clarke) is just out of rehab, reconnecting with his wary wife Sandy (Aselton) and adorable daughter (Rabe). But he's prohibited from working the streets, so is reassigned to the cybercrime unit. A technophobe, his attention is piqued by the dark-web site Silk Road, where people can buy and sell illegal drugs anonymously. It was started by brainy fast-talker Ross (Robinson), who carefully conceals his identity. And as it goes viral, Rick begins working with FBI agent Chris (Simpson) to set Ross up for a big fall.
A devout libertarian, Ross has designed Silk Road simply to subvert government regulations on personal freedom, and it's his girlfriend Julia (Shipp) who reminds him of the human cost of drug abuse. These kinds of simplistic touches are scattered throughout the screenplay, making complex issues easy to understand. The problem is that this badly simplifies each decision decision the characters face. So people like Julia and Ross' friend Max (Stewart) remain little more than representations of his conscience.
Both leads are likeable and morally questionable. Clarke has fun with this scruffy agent who prefers old fashioned police work to new fangled tech. He's a no-nonsense bad cop stereotype, although his messy addiction issues are left rather blurred. Robinson has a more layered role as the true believer who is facilitating a illegal network. He digs deeply in some darker dramatic scenes, especially as his relationships slide away. And there are a few terrific side roles, most notably for Hauser as a Utah dealer.
This is a sharply well-made film, even if it never attempts to dig beneath the surfaces. The snappy dialog, attitude-filled characters and shocking premise give us plenty to hold on to, even if there isn't a moment that's actually suspenseful or challenging. And a late-act speech about the importance of experience feels rather silly. But it's easy to watch, letting us hang on for the ride as the resourceful Feds close in on this smart idealist. So a few vague thematic nudges might have an impact.
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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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