Directed by Michael Mann.
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Wei Tang, Viola Davis, Manny Montana, Wang Leehom and William Mapother.
A furloughed convict and his American and Chinese partners hunt a high-level cyber crime network from Chicago to Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Jakarta.
There’s a clash at the heart of Michael Mann’s Blackhat and I for one don’t like having to come to terms with the fact that this, his eleventh major release, is by far his weakest effort to date – 1983’s The Keep notwithstanding. That clash is style and substance, narrative and mood, character and action, and never has the director come so close to tipping the balance out of his favour.
This is the first movie Mann has directed based on someone else’s script and the rift this causes is evident throughout. The story and screenplay from first time writer Morgan Davis Foehl provide none of the deep introspective character work which is at the heart of all Mann’s previous work and one of the main reasons his films are so compelling; Nick Hathaway (played by Chris Hemsworth, a problem unto itself which must be addressed) has some background which is spewed out in clumsy exposition but at the centre is a flat, dull, and wholly uninteresting man. What motivates him? What are his demons? His desires? Where is his character arc? These questions remain unsatisfyingly unanswered or even attempted throughout the needlessly long 133 minutes. Now compare such questions to the leads in Heat, Collateral, Public Enemies, Thief. Hell, even the much maligned Miami Vice (a film I personally really like) has a core relationship between Crockett and Tubbs which feels genuine and real, as if they’ve known each other for many years, the film opens and continues safe in this knowledge. What we’re left with is a shell of a protagonist who is supposed to be a world-class computer hacker yet is as deadly with a weapon as any of the leading men in Mann’s previous films; this disconnect here is that neither the action nor the espionage fit the man nor the film.
I appreciate and applaud the idea to tell a cyber crime thriller at a time when action movies are becoming increasingly dumber and unoriginal, and the central plot for Blackhat could have made for a great ‘Jack Ryan’ movie (far better than the one we got last year). An intelligent thriller where the seldom-explored world of cyber crimes is at the forefront could have made for an interesting concept; but Foehl ditches the hacking and tracking in favour for action set pieces and a revenge tale which, whilst in the hands of Mann the scenes are always visceral and exciting, add little to the credibility of the story or character. When a secondary character dies in a previous Mann film (think Mark Ruffalo in Collateral, Tom Sizemore in Heat, or Stephen Graham in Public Enemies) we care because they are part of the DNA of the story, but in Blackhat we care about no one because they are all written so thinly, a death is in service of plot development but never at an emotional level. Moreover Chris Hemsworth simply does not have the presence and charisma (yet) to carry the weight of a leading man in a Michael Mann film, despite the poor writing. Think of the list of actors from previous films; De Niro, Pacino, Crowe, Day-Lewis, Cruise, Farrell (back when he was still an exciting talent) and Depp (in coincidentally his last great film) – Hemsworth doesn’t come close to their work and Blackhat is no different.
What saves the film is that it is a Michael Mann film. No one shoots night-time, no one captures an actor’s face, no one shoots a cityscape, and no one shoots an action sequence quite like Mann, and in Blackhat he does all of this to the usual high standard we’ve come to expect and love. His use of digital camera is experimented and pushed further than ever and each scene has a rough, unpolished texture like you’ll never see in any other film of Blackhat’s size and budget. The violence is at times hard and unexpected, the attention to firepower provides a soundmix which demands you see this in the cinema, and there is a steadycam footchase which pushes the derogatory ‘shakycam’ into a technique which looks oddly beautiful up there on the big screen. Moreover, Mann’s first foray into purely CGI sequences are intelligent ways to show his audience how information is sent though wires and cables and LEDs; not a new technique but something I’d not seen applied by a director to show a process such as this before. It’s a tick in the plus column for me.
“If this was directed by anyone else…” might be the cry from Blackhat’s detractors but my answer will always be the same; it’s not directed by someone else, it’s directed by Michal Mann and I’ll still take a rare and below-par Mann movie once in twenty years than nothing at all. I’ve already got the Blu-ray on pre-order, so I expect to love this by the end of the year, faults and all; I’m a Michael Mann fanboy – a Mannboy, if you will.
[easyazon_link asin=”B00SG1353E” locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”flickmyth-20″]You can pre-order Blackhat on Amazon here.[/easyazon_link]
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Rohan Morbey – follow me on Twitter.