The ongoing struggle to make cyber crime an exciting time at the movies continues with Michael Mann’s Blackhat, a ridiculous, stone-faced mish-mash of genre stereotypes and endless exposition. We’ve come to expect much more from Mann, an accomplished director whose Heat (1995) remains one of the première crime films ever made. Sadly, Blackhat follows more in the footsteps of his failed Miami Vice adaptation, where lots of things happen, none of them exciting or interesting. Mann still has a fine eye behind the camera lens, but this story is a half-baked mess.
Chris Hemsworth stars as Nicholas Hathaway, a convict doing time for cyber crime. After unknown online attackers take down a Chinese nuclear plant and fix the price of stock futures for their own personal gain, the U.S. government furloughs and recruits Hathaway to help track down the culprits. The digital breadcrumbs take he and his team to all corners of the globe in the hopes that Hathaway’s knowledge of the code used to execute the attack will prevent further hacks and help apprehend the suspects.
Mann does all he can in trying to spice up what amounts to people spending a lot of time typing on keyboards. Data breaches and attacks are visualized by the camera swooping and zooming in on each byte, a tactic that feels more outdated than anything. Blackhat does have a few arresting location-based visual moments, but the action scenes are reduced to the usual choppily-edited gun battles and incomprehensibly shaky on-foot camerawork. Morgan Davis Foehl’s screenplay keeps the tech talk on the level of “is your phone an Android?” Had the script been tightened to keep the action moving and work in a bit more comedy (the clumsy running joke involves Viola Davis’s deadly serious government agent being called a “chica”), this would be more digestible. There’s a completely unbelievable and spark-free romance between Hathaway and Lien Chen (Tang), one of his partners. The overarching problem, however, is that none of the characters are interesting and, once revealed, the villains are utterly forgettable.
Hemsworth, who’s shown ability as a lead before, lumbers his way through the exposition and never makes for a convincing hacker. As an unstoppable force of nature, which he magically turns in to for the film’s violent final act, he fares better. Channeling a bizarre mix of George Clooney and Sylvester Stallone, Hemsworth looks like he wants to be somewhere else just about all the time. The film wastes Viola Davis, a fine actress, in a government suit role and Wei Tang, as the love interest, is given so little to do one wonders if she’s on the mission for any other reason. She’s not.
The topic of cyber crime is certainly alluring to filmmakers as it feels contemporary and relevant, but bringing it to the screen in a compelling way remains a frustrating challenge. Blackhat is just the latest example. It’s a step back for Mann, whose past output and years between projects usually indicates something special is on the way. Not so here, as Blackhat is a murky, ice-cold techno-thriller that will be forgotten by the time Spring Training rolls around.
Studio: Universal Pictures
Length: 135 Minutes
Rating: R for violence and some language.
Theatrical Release: January 16, 2015
Directed by: Michael Mann
Written by: Morgan Davis Foehl
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Wei Tang, John Ortiz, William Mapother