Deep Web – 2015 Film Review – Chattanooga Film Festival – Film Dispenser

Film April 16, 2015 Scott Phillips
Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every Fall.

I always assumed that the Dark Net or Dark Web was a fictional construct made popular by conspiracy and mystery television series like Person of Interest or Elementary. Little did I know that hackers had appropriated military-grade encryption programs to disguise their cyber-activity, and the Dark Net is a modern reality. Used equally by criminals, drug traffickers and political dissidents, this virtual environment has given birth to websites that allow users to buy drugs and other contraband as easily as other consumers toss DVDs into their Amazon carts.

Deep Web, the new documentary from Alex Winter, takes an in-depth look at The Silk Road, an on-line drug distribution site, and its alleged founder, Ross Ulbrecht. Narrated by Keanu Reeves, Deep Web takes viewers into the darkest recesses of the internet and puts them on the frontlines of law enforcement’s efforts to bring these on-line criminal enterprises to justice. Along the way the film asks some very intriguing questions. What is your expectation of privacy in your cyber activity? Is a warrant needed for the federal government to hack into a server you own and collect incriminating evidence? How can you prove the identity of the person behind a cyber-handle?

When it was established in 2011, The Silk Road was an eBay for drug distribution. List a quantity of an illegal substance, receive a bid or purchase order and ship the contraband to the user’s front door via a common carrier like UPS or FedEx. With the establishment of an unregulated currency like BitCoin, it was a match made in criminal heaven. Illicit, encrypted purchases paid for by an untraceable currency. Profits were high, and the risk was low. No need to stand on street corners and sling dope. Just sell it retail, online.

The alleged brainchild of The Silk Road was an individual operating under the moniker of Dread Pirate Roberts. The handle harkens back to The Princess Bride where the swashbuckling anti-hero of the same name explains that he is one of many bandits over the years who has used the name, and it will subsequently be handed down to his successor. As the FBI traces Dread Pirate Roberts, some fundamental questions arise.  Is this one person or multiple people using a single pseudonym? And how do you determine which person should be targeted and prosecuted for the activity taking place under that handle?

Deep Web follows the efforts of international law enforcement agencies to bring Dread Pirate Roberts to justice and shut down The Silk Road. The investigation leads to Ross Ulbricht, an engineer with little or no computer expertise who espouses radical forms of capitalism and economics with no governmental oversight. The film also asks disturbing questions about the tactics employed by law enforcement to investigate these types of cyber-enterprises. And unless the film somehow distorts the proceedings in the actual Dread Pirate Roberts’ prosecution, the trial of Ross Ulbricht appears to be a judicial sham at best.

Deep Web had its world premiere at SXSW earlier this year. The screening at the Chattanooga Film Festival was only the second time it had been shown in a theater. Writer/director Alex Winter explained that the actual prosecution is ongoing, and he will be supplementing his film over the coming months until it becomes available on VOD and Netflix. Deep Web is as disturbing as it is compelling. It’s well worth your time.

Scott Phillips

The Movie Isle

Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.

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