A sudden outbreak of crime movies

There have been some really good crime movies on Sky recently, after rather a long drought. I mentioned The Burnt Orange Heresy the other day, but we’ve also watched a couple of others – Dark Web: Cicada 3301 and Silk Road – that were entertaining in different ways, and I still have Say Your Prayers downloaded and ready to go.

Of the two we’ve seen, I think I preferred Silk Road. This is the (partly fictional, partly true) story of a libertarian young man who set up a drugs delivery service on the dark web, made a fortune, and was eventually tracked down by the DEA and the police. The film featured some cracking performances from Nick Robinson (as hot-shot cyber drug-dealer Ross Ulbricht) and Jason Clarke (last seen as the slightly less criminal half of the politician/gangster siblings in Brotherhood) who played a grizzled, old-fashioned cop reassigned to the cyber crime unit after a misdemeanour. Given that he could barely switch on a laptop this gave rise to some hilarity but as he himself said, “I may be old and slow but I’m not stupid,” and he taught himself, leaned on an informant for tuition, and came close to bringing down Ulbricht all by himself.

The film started slowly with a lot of character building of Ulbricht, his friends and girlfriend, and Clarke’s Rick Bowden. It got rather soapy at times and I felt it could have been trimmed, while still introducing the characters and their motivations. However, once Bowden started to track Ulbricht the pace stepped up and it became a fascinating cat-and-mouse between a computer whizz who’d set up the definitive ‘untraceable’ dark web site, and an old-fashioned cop who refused to give up. In the end things didn’t go quite to plan for either of them, and there was a nice twist as both suffered the consequences.

I liked the way the director played with the audience’s sympathies; we began with a sneaking sympathy for Ulbricht and his ideals, then switched to rooting for Bowden in his efforts to trace Ulbricht and show up his annoyingly patronising bosses – and then made us doubt ourselves in the dying minutes of the film, and with the explanatory credits at the end. All in all a really solid crime movie, well made and well acted, and I’d happily recommend it to anyone.

Dark Web: Cicada 3301 had a similar theme: a tale about a hacker (Jack Kesy) who breaks into a mysterious secret society who run an addictively cryptic game, also on the dark web, whose previous participants have often disappeared. The tone was quirky, at times even surreal, and the end result felt rather like the love child of Deadpool and Videodrome. It raced along from one clue to the next with stalkers, apparent hallucinations, fight scenes, and a nice framing device where Kesy’s character explained his actions to some kind of special court, with frequent flights of fancy to make the prosecutors who’d been pursuing him look even more inept than they actually were.

In the end it was let down by some shockingly caricatured characters and hammy acting, and by the slight feeling that either the writers weren’t quite as brilliant as the plot needed them to be, or that they were but the whole thing had been dumbed down. Not even a cool twist at the end was enough to fully rescue it, but it was entertaining and fun and probably deserves a bit more (but not much more) than the two stars it gets on Rotten Tomatoes…

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