Film: Deep Web (2015)

July 15, 2015 | By


DeepWeb2015_poster_sFilm: Excellent

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Genre:  Documentary / Internet

Synopsis: Fascinating tale of Ross Ulbricht, a programming whiz whose anarchic leanings led to the creation of online merchant Silk Road, a site that enabled the purchase of hard drugs.

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A kind of companion piece to Alex Winter’s Napster documentary Downloaded (2013), Deep Web refers to the virtual benthic layer of data – financial, private, governmental, and military – which is inaccessible accept to industry personnel or users of Tor, now an open source program originally developed by the U.S. military.

Deep Web is comprised of three parts: an overview of what resides in the deep web; the creation of Silk Road, a website that facilitated the buying / selling of assorted drugs using Bitcoin in a kind of Amazon / Ebay marketplace, replete with buyer’s guides, seller ratings, and merchandise quality reviews; and the arrest and conviction of Ross Ulbricht, creator of Silk Road, and an American charged by the FBI for facilitating the sale of narcotics and allegedly hiring contract killers to wipe out rivals.

It’s a surreal narrative that ultimately veers from a tale of anarchists and idealists determined to weaken bad government policies (namely America’s ineffective War on Drugs) to what may be a hastily built case against Ulbricht.

Featuring a wide selection of interviews and narration by Keanu Reeves (who co-starred with Winter in the Bill & Ted franchise, and Winter’s crazy 1993 comedy Freaked), Deep Web ultimately builds towards a conclusion in which nothing is resolved, but its message becomes clear as the film closes and Ulbricht remains in prison: the guidelines currently applied to gathering and assessing the credibility of physical evidence should be applied with equal accuracy to evidence used to prosecute offenders of digital crimes.

Now, Ulbricht should’ve known his dream of building and maintaining a site that enabled the sale of actual hardcore drugs was fated to destroy his life – there’s no way any international legal body would’ve sat still, especially when rival (and less idealistic) sites could sell contract killings or worse, bomb or biological warfare components – and Winter doesn’t build the film as a rallying cry for the release of Ulbricht, but there are enough arguments from anarchists, legal figures, and colleagues that question the validity of some of the evidence, and the professionalism of certain authorities within the prosecution team.

Whether one believes there’s a virgin victim at the centre of Deep Web is subjective, but there is something peculiar when much of the prosecution’s evidence is suppressed and off-limits to the defense, making the case against Ulbricht seem too neat, and effectively neutering his lawyer’s only means of defense.

Deep Web (currently screening in theatres, including the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema) unfolds like a cyber-thriller with clashing views, grey moral zones, and idealistic figures involved in a game of whack-a-mole, but it also feels like the first of a two-part saga, with perhaps a follow-up film materializing after Ulbricht’s fate and ongoing appeals have reached their final resolutions.



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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