2015, R, 135 mins.
2015, R, 135 mins.
Chris Hemsworth as Nicholas Hathaway / Viola Davis as Carol Barrett / Wei Tang as Lien / Leehom Wang as Chen / Manny Montana as Lozano / William Mapother as Rich Donahue
Directed by Michael Mann / Written by Mann and Morgan Davis Foehl
Michael Mann’s BLACKHAT – his first film in six years – is a new high tech thriller that touches on some tangible real world concerns about the future of cyber terrorism. There is no doubt that the film certainly feels timely and thematically relevant, not to mention that it has its finger on the pulse of our global anxieties regarding technological attacks on established infrastructures.
rarely becomes suspenseful or even modestly involving, mostly because its dopey scripting and shoddy pacing is shockingly ill-conceived and
executed. This is especially sad coming form Mann, the virtuoso
director that gave us HEAT, COLLATERAL,
and MANHUNTER. BLACKHAT is
far too tedious, dramatically negligible, and tension-free as far as Mann
films are concerned.
film also makes the blunder of horribly misusing Chris Hemsworth in the
lead role, an actor of limitless on-screen appeal and charm (THOR proves
this), but here he’s an emotionally vacant and stoic bore (not to
mention that he has to churn out obligatory dialogue with a heavy – and
not very convincing – New Yorker accent).
In the film he plays Nicholas Hathaway , a former M.I.T.
“blackhat” (slang for “hacker”) that has been incarcerated
for years because of his past cyber criminal misdeeds, but his knowledge
in the field is undeniable and incomparable.
There’s a cyber terrorist attack on a Chinese nuclear reactor,
which causes both American and Chinese authorities to pool together their
resources to find the culprit and end any other future calamities.
Of course, this brings the joint anti-terrorism task force to seek
out Nicholas for his unique set of computer skills.
Nicholas has no desire to help the same authorities that essentially put
him in prison in the first place. However,
he manages to finagle a lucrative deal with his handler, Carol Barrett
(a decent Viola Davis) to grant him freedom from prison if he’s
successful in aiding her team in capturing the terrorists.
She reluctantly acquiesces and Nicholas is not only reunited with a former
college buddy in Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang) on the team, but he also gets cozy with
Chen's brainy sister, Lien (Wei Tang).
As Nicholas and his team venture all over the globe – from
Chicago to L.A. to Hong Kong and finally to Jakarta – they begin to
piece together clues as to the real culprits behind the nuclear reactor
disaster, but Nicholas faces a whole other slew of
obstacles along the way, some of which threaten the very freedom that he
was promised in the first place.
will say this about Mann: Nobody can shoot locations like he can.
Stunningly photographed by Stuart Dryburgh, BLACKHAT makes virtuoso
usage of its real world settings. The
loose, freewheeling, and improvisational camerawork (a Mann aesthetic
staple) elegantly frames the natural opulence of the cityscapes and
streets that Nicholas and his allies occupy throughout the film.
The opening sequence of the film – showcasing the reactor attack
and a visual representation of what it looks like within a computer system
when a hacker infiltrates and shuts it down using malware and viruses –
is kind of endlessly fascinating for its intricate complexity.
This scene highlights how frightening the whole notion of cyber
terrorism is, especially for how nameless and faceless people in hiding
can launch such devastatingly effective attacks…with the push of a few
representing what computer terrorism looks like is inherently challenging,
but Mann finds a way to do it justice here.
is also a maestro when it comes to helming action, and there’s one scene
in particular – involving Nicholas suspecting that someone’s tailing
him in a restaurant – that explodes into a lyrical and chaotic flurry of
violence that only Mann can engineer.
That, and the film’s gun battles have the pulse pounding
immediacy and base-heavy oomph factor that really makes you feel like you
directly in the line of fire with Nicholas and company.
Mann is as dexterous of a technical cinematic craftsman as they
come, and BLACKHAT’S rock steady and assured production values are a
consummate reminder of his supreme gifts behind the camera; Mann is simply incapable of making an ugly looking film.
said that, BLACKHAT’s stylistic flourishes don’t favorably compare to
the film’s flaccid and prosaic scripting.
It takes an awfully long time for the film to build interest in its
subject, and Mann and screenwriter Morgan Davis Foehl eventually lose the
audience’s attention with the manner that the narrative takes some
preposterous and frequently laughable detours, which all but drains the
film of any level of credible grit and verisimilitude it should have had.
More often than not, BLACKHAT feels like a subpar James Bondian
thriller on autopilot, and the screenplay makes some pathetically obvious
and telegraphed moves (the whole romance angle between Nicholas and Lien
can be seen from a proverbial mile away, and it's predictability matched
by the listless chemistry-free pairing of Hemsworth and Tang).
Is it really plausible that two complete strangers – in the
middle of a worldwide threat – would fall head over heals for each other
within a day of working together? Lame
and ham-invested plot contrivances such as these have no place in a Mann
scripting aside, Mann misfires big time with Hemsworth as the lead, who
seems to barely emote at all with his stilted line readings and hardly
draws any attention to himself as a character of rooting interest.
The Nicholas character himself rarely comes off as authentic in the
slightest. Here’s a
“computer genius” that looks like a GQ cover model (despite being
behind bars for years) and – beyond his intricate knowledge of all
things cyber-related – is about as lethal in a fist or gun fight as
Rambo. The other damning
problem with this character is that he’s, for the most part, freakin’
unstoppable on all fronts. There’s
no computer/cell phone he can’t crack and no adversary that he can’t
mop the floor with as easily as Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills from the TAKEN
franchise. There’s simply
no simmering aura of threat in BLACKHAT; I never once doubted that this
improbably scripted superman would not make it out on top.
Then there’s the villain himself, who’s hardly an entity in BLACKHAT at all, and when he reveals himself he’s basically a megalomaniac with world dominating aspirations on pure autopilot (he’s also no physical match for the perpetually brawny Hemsworth, which makes their climatic standoff all the more dull). I’m really ashamed of BLACKHAT, especially coming from Mann, who has made an acclaimed career of making cold and calculating action thrillers with merciless pacing and a fine attention to character detail. Yet, everything in BLACKHAT just falls resoundingly flat. This is a would-be suspenseful and exhilarating thriller with real-world echoes that rarely capitalizes on its premise. Mann has never made a disposable and banal film. He has now.