Hot Docs 2015: 'Deep Web' review

★★☆☆☆
Deep Web (2015) could have been a documentary about the drug trafficking online retail establishment equivalent of a local Costco outlet. Deep Web could have been an insightful foray into the as yet unexplored field of the direct effect online drug caverns have on the multi billion-dollar war on drugs in the United States of America. Deep Web could have become the go to study of Ross Ulbricht (otherwise known as 'Dread Pirate Roberts'); an intellectual driven by Austrian economy and libertarianist philosophies. The problem resides in Downloaded director and one-time actor Alex Winter's desire to throw all of these possible films into one unnecessarily long whole.

The documentary follows the creation, disbandment, death, and anarchic, victorious resurrection of Silk Road - the largest online drug trafficking ring ever founded - and its alleged infamous Robert Pattinson doppelgänger creator Ulbricht. To Winter's credit, the information is obviously well researched and the journalists, politicians, and law enforcement agency officers he talks to are terrific choices, in particular Wired Magazine's Andy Greenberg. The problem is the incessant cramming of pieces of information, one after another, to fit within the confining ninety-minute time frame. Instead of a story strung together using information points as a way to progress it forward, Deep Web plays like a 1,000 page moving document with glimpses of story appearing sporadically.

By the end of the film, it feels nearly impossible to recall any one specific detail and an uncomfortable numbness creeps in when you find yourself quizzed on what the general takeaway of the doc was. It also struggles with hyper focusing on one aspect of Silk Road's story just to delve off into a related subtopic for ten minutes and then promptly forgets about it for the rest of the run time. One example is the examination of law enforcement's opinion of the war on drugs and its relation to how Silk Road operates. The information is valuable and the way it's presented is hardly problematic, but it's unnecessary material that could have been cut for a slightly shorter, and most importantly, more concise, documentary on the primary subject, Ulbricht. The film soars with the sources they're able to secure.

Andy Greenberg is one of the main sources in the film and is the go-to journalist for anything related to the Dark Net, Silk Road or Ross Ulbricht. Winter also uses three actual Silk Road vendors, who remain anonymous with additional changes to their voices. Their presence alone adds to the authenticity and validity of the film, making it seem more sinister and authoritative than it might have otherwise. Deep Web could have been an integral part in archiving the dissonance between cryptographers and government agencies, but its inability to remain focused on one specific aspect of the gigantic conversation that is the endless possibilities of what the internet could be potentially used and wielded for, makes this promising film adequate at best.

Julia Alexander | @loudmouthjulia

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