Blackhat Movie Review

Universal Pictures
Rated R for violence and some language.
Running time: 133 minutes.
One and a half stars out of four.

The notion of a terrible Michael Mann movie seems like an oxymoron. It doesn’t make any sense coming from the man behind “Heat” and “The Insider” and “Collateral.” But there’s a reason that “Blackhat,” a Michael Mann movie starring a major movie star in Chris Hemsworth, is opening in the dead of January: because it is indeed terrible.

Even Mann’s recent, minor efforts – films like 2009’s “Public Enemies” and his big-screen version of “Miami Vice” in 2006 – pulsated with some sort of energy. They buzzed with some sort of tension. He’s always been a meticulous stickler for style, so the imagery in these later films is usually enthralling even when the characters or the story aren’t. But even Mann’s signature vibe – a combination of sleekness and muscularity, gloss and grit – can’t distract from the ridiculousness of “Blackhat,” or enliven its prevailing tedium.

Let’s start with the fact that Hemsworth stars as the world’s most brilliant hacker. Let that sink in for a moment. As a bad casting choice, it’s up there with Tara Reid playing a brilliant archaeologist in Uwe Boll’s 2005 video game adaptation “Alone in the Dark” – or Hemsworth’s younger brother, Liam, playing a brilliant tech guru in the 2013 thriller “Paranoia.” This is not a slam on Hemsworth, who has a strong film presence that extends beyond playing the blonde, hulking Thor in various Marvel summer blockbusters. He showed both swagger and smarts as racecar driver James Hunt in Ron Howard’s “Rush.” He’s always had a bit of a young Brad Pitt about him in his combination of spectacular good looks with a sense of humor to match.

Here, he’s just horribly miscast. Anyone who makes his or her way in the world sitting in front of a computer screen all day is not going to look as hunky as Hemsworth. They’re probably also going to wear shirts more frequently than he does in “Blackhat.” And they probably won’t possess the bad-assery required to dominate any fistfight/shootout/name a deadly situation the way his character, Nick Hathaway, does.

He also dominates the prison where he’s serving 13 years for hacking theft. That’s where we first meet him in “Blackhat,” and where he first reveals his unwaveringly stoic demeanor. At the film’s start, we watched as a mysterious, faceless hacker caused an explosion at a nuclear plant in Hong Kong. Next, he used his malware to send soy prices soaring at the exchange in Chicago. Mann depicts the deluge of damaging data in the form of tiny white blips traveling through cables and circuitry; they begin as a trickle but turn into a tidal wave. It’s a rather cool-looking trick the first time and it kicks things off with some energetic visual imagery; from there, though, much of what actually drives the narrative consists of people sitting in front of laptops, click-clacking away furiously with their brows furrowed, as is so often the case in such high-tech capers.

This one-two punch of attacks prompts the Chinese and United States governments to work together in a partnership. Viola Davis provides a rare source of substance and a human connection as a tough FBI agent, while an elegant Wang Leehom plays the Chinese investigator who just happens to have been Nick’s roommate at MIT. Wang’s character, Chen Dawai, knows Nick is the only person who could possibly get to the bottom of who wrote this code because, as it turns out, he’s the one who wrote an early version of it.

Once Chen and Davis’ Carol Barrett arrange for Nick’s release on furlough, Morgan Davis Foehl’s script sends them on a globetrotting adventure from Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Jakarta to track down the culprit before he can strike again. (What this person ultimately is after is incredibly lame and anticlimactic, but I won’t spoil it for you.) Also along for the ride is Chen’s sister, Lien, played in stiff, monotone fashion by Tang Wei. Chen says he wants her as part of the team because he needs someone he can trust; in truth, though, she’s there to serve as eye candy and a laughable love interest for Nick. Attractive as they both are individually, Hemsworth and Tang have zero chemistry with each other. The supposed romance that blossoms between them comes out of nowhere, makes no sense and is entirely needless.

More effective, though are the violent set pieces Mann stages — unsurprising, given that these are his bread and butter. His use of digital video during a fistfight at a neon-bathed Koreatown restaurant makes it feel both garish and kinetic. The pop of gunfire and metal during a lengthy shootout amid giant cargo containers provides its own tense rhythm. Such startling bursts of brutal energy provide the rare thrills in a film that more often feels like an overlong slog.

In theory, “Blackhat” couldn’t be more timely, given that it arrives on the heels of a hack attack that shook Sony Pictures to its core. But for Mann, it’ll end up being a blip in an otherwise massive career.

7 Comments on “Blackhat

  1.  by  George

    Mann for me is the most interesting director to shoot night skylines. The combination of his city night-shooting with the soundtrack he puts is superb.

    And then…there’s the screenplay. Oh boy. What can someone say? I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll describe this as vaguely as I can, but there is a scene in the movie showing a huge parade of Indonesian people. And among them, one man points a gun to another man, and the other man stabs him and kills him. And NOBODY of these Indonesian people sees anything! And it happens right in front of them! Logic flew out of the window in this scene!

    As for Hemsworth, sure, I also found it difficult to believe that this gorgeous tall blonde guy is a hacker. But then again, I thought: isn’t this interesting? What did you want to see again? A four eyed 30 year old virgin with pimples on his face talking with numbers and codes instead of words? Wouldn’t this be TYPECASTING? So yeah, believe it or not (me, you, and whoever), it is possible that there are some hackers in this world that are HANDSOME!
    And about his builded body, well, he said it himself, there are two things to do in prison, reading and exercising!

    And I think he was good in the movie. Actually, I think it’s his best performance after “Rush”. Hemsworth was not the problem. All actors were good in the movie (Viola Davis, so good). The problem is that in almost every Mann movie, some scenes defy logic, and I don’t understand why he does it. He’s sabotaging his own movies.

    But anyway, I think that “Blackhat” was not that terrible as you and people say. Yes, it was a bit long and it’s hard to believe that all these could happen, but a) it didn’t bore me, b) his directing style is so attractive that makes it easier to watch. I mean, if that screenplay had an indifferent director, then it would be an utter bore.

  2.  by  Carlos Daniel

    I do love Mann’s “Collateral”, but “Heat” felt exactly like you describe Blackhat: an overlong, boring slog which occasionally comes to life during violent set pieces.

  3.  by  Max Yin

    This review is precisely what I want to say, on every point. “Heat” is one of my all-time favorite if not the one. But “Blackhat” only left with me wondering “Why would you make this?”

  4.  by  Patrick B

    As bad as this was it is miles better than Mann’s Miami Vice. That is the real blemish on his career.

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  6.  by  truefeather77

    The Hemsworth crack was a cheap shot. Of course, all pretty people must be stupid, and all brilliant people must be ugly. He’s not the “The Big Bang Theory” kind of nerd. There aught to be a law!

    Casting him as Thor, while cool, was also a vicious stereotype. Thor is pretty, and strong, so he must be stupid, too. Whedon has, you know, envy, so he made Thor a thug with great dental work. The actor is not the fictional character he portrays.

    As someone pointed out earlier, this character not the vicious stereotype of the hacker without a life. That’s a plus, not a flaw.

  7.  by  barbell

    You guys are actually arguing that the best computer hacker in the world “could be” a tall, handsome model hunk who also happens to be highly skilled in hand to hand combat. The most intelligent, most handsome guy , the best fighter (oh and a great lover) all in one perfect man is not over-reaching just a little bit? LOL!!!