‘Blackhat’ is Middling Michael Mann

GameStop, Inc.

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Hollywood has a rich history of technological panic, as illustrated by laughable techno-thrillers like Hackers and The Net. Like those films of the mid-‘90s, we still don’t fully understand the potential for a cyber-induced catastrophe. While Blackhat, the new film by Michael Mann, doesn’t present its vision of the computer world with extremely laughable interfaces, it doesn’t coherently convey the threat at play in the film. It’s a continuation of Mann’s themes concerning the opposite sides of the law, and their intertwined personal lives. With its questionable digital cinematography and reexamination of Mann’s prevalent themes, Blackhat is just another middling entry in the late career of Michael Mann.

After a hacker strikes a Chinese nuclear power plant, government agencies around the world are trying to figure out the culprit and their motives behind the attack. Before they’ve made any headway in their investigation, the hacker strikes again, manipulating commodity prices on the stock exchange. Having agreed to assist one another in the investigation, Chinese computer expert Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang) and his sister, Lien Chen (Wei Tang), team up with FBI Agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis) to uncover the masterminds behind these cybercrimes. Noticing that an old piece of code is being used to facilitate the attacks, Chen requests that Nicolas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth), a hacker imprisoned in Pennsylvania, be released to assist the investigation. Following a bread crumb trail of binary code, Hathaway and company travel around the world seeking new clues and information. Traveling from Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Jakarta, Hathaway and company must solve the mystery and stop the hacker before further attacks are committed.

Blackhat features Chris Hemsworth in his least charismatic role to date. It’s not so much that he isn’t believable as a hacker as much as it’s that he’s given a paper-thin character to work with. He’s too perfect physically and mentally, able to beat up and outsmart his foes at once. I can’t shake this feeling that Mann chose to focus his story on the wrong character; Blackhat should be about Carol Barrett. Not only does Viola Davis give the film’s best performance, alternating between tough and humorous within milliseconds, her character has the most depth to it, though the film doesn’t always want to explore the nuance Davis lends to Barrett. But that’s Blackhat in a nutshell – it leaves its best features understated and underutilized.

The movie comes across as interesting for the most part, but the material never elevates into the realm of thrilling. Mann does raise the stakes at the right times, but waits to long for the payoff that the tension built quickly evaporates. Since the film can’t keep itself as compelling as it wants to, it’s all the more disappointing when the film devolves into another Mann shoot ‘em up. Working from an original script by Morgan Davis Foehl, it seems that Mann wants to explore his normal themes in a different realm of cops and robbers but at every chance he opts to do what he’s always done. The look, the pacing, and the cinematography look and feel just like they did in Miami Vice and Public Enemies. As much as the digital cinematography has improved for basic scenes, Mann still hasn’t found a way to digitally film action in a way that doesn’t make it look cheap and chaotic.

Destined to blend in with late-period Mann films like Collateral, Miami Vice, and Public Enemies, Blackhat isn’t an awful film, it’s just okay. With its inelegant aesthetic and familiar story beats, there’s nothing to elevate Blackhat above the mantle of a minor Michael Mann film, and an overall mediocre movie.

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