Let’s face it, computer hacking is the dark cloud that hangs over every single one of us, every single day. At any time, a hacker can attack us, stealing our personal information, draining our bank accounts, shutting down our video game networks, stopping movies from being released theatrically, and hitting in acts of terror that not even ISIS can imagine. Hacking is the perfect fodder for a tense movie thriller, as it can — and has — affected all of us in our daily lives in one way or another.
In Blackhat, Michael Mann (Heat, Collateral, Miami Vice) presents one such scenario, where a hacker attacks a sovereign nation from the shadows and sends governments into a frenzy of trying to stop him or her before they attack again. Chris Hemsworth (Thor, The Avengers, Rush) stars as Nick Hathaway, an expert hacker serving hard time for past cyber crimes. When code that he co-wrote in college is used in a terror attack in China, the U.S. and Chinese governments turn to him for assistance, offering a way out of prison for his services. As luck would have it, the lead Chinese investigator, Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang), happens to be the other author of the code and Hathaway’s college roommate. Chen also seeks the help of his sister, Chen Lien (Wei Tang), and the three “hackers” join up with Viola Davis (Prisoners, The Help, TVs How To Get Away With Murder) to travel the world chasing the mysterious cyber-terrorist.
Unfortunately, Blackhat suffers from “the blue screen of death.” The story never gets any deeper than what I just described, and the tech aspects of the cyber-crime are abandoned early in favor of ridiculous, over-the-top and incredibly out-of-place action pieces, including Heat-esque gunfights, fistfights, and explosions.
Michael Mann starts off strong in his direction by showing the audience exactly what happens when a computer program launches, even going so far as to show the silicon elements moving the electrical bits of information down lines and through microscopic computer chips (think a real-life TRON) but the whole project quickly falls apart. Mann’s inexplicable love of the handicam and extreme close ups ruin any sense of setting up scenes, and as Blackhat becomes a poor attempt at an action film, the shaky camera is nauseatingly distracting. Chris Hemsworth is a very attractive man. I don’t need to see up his nostrils every time he is on screen. Mann only breaks up the extreme close ups with over-the-shoulder shots which are also too close for comfort.
And midway through the film, Hathaway and Chen Lien are attacked by thugs in a restaurant and a martial arts fistfight breaks out, because all computer hackers are over six feet tall, with blond hair and blue eyes and have the ability to fight hand-to-hand with hired killers. The blocking and camera work in this fight scene was some of the worst I have ever seen on film, and it may not be the worst part of this movie.
All of the issues on Blackhat fall squarely on the lap of Michael Mann, who has seemingly forgotten how to make a good visual film, and on a script that doesn’t know what it wants to be. The script, by Morgan Davis Foehl — best known for editing forgettable Adam Sandler movies — is also light on the “cyber.”
After the initial attacks, all pretense of computers as a tool of evil is replaced. The main antagonist is never really explained with a backstory, and their motivations for the attacks boil down to stealing money. Unfortunately for Blackhat’s script, the antagonist steals money from the stock market to use in their grand scheme to steal money. Yes, you read that right. If you have the power to steal from the stock market, why bother going through such complicated measures to steal more? And this may be the worst part of the entire production — a production already suffering from bad direction, miscasting, and an ad campaign that truly has nothing to do with the finished product. The script is just awful, and when the very foundation of a movie fails, the rest of the production cannot be saved.
Blackhat could have been a timely cautionary tale about our collective dependence on computers, and how, at any time, we could be ruined by a few key strokes of a nefarious person. Instead, the film tries too hard to be a globe-spanning action film and fails miserably at both. Michael Mann has made some incredible films in the past, and Chris Hemsworth is a bonafide movie star. It’s too bad both men missed their mark here, and the audience is left to reboot to try and forget how bad this movie really is.
Blackhat is rated R and is in theaters now.
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