Blackhat review: Another misfire by Michael Mann

Posted on 26 February 2015
By George Heron
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Is it possible to make a film interesting when the plot involves sitting in front of a computer for long periods of time? Michael Mann, director of such classics as Heat and Collateral, tries to answer that question with his latest effort Blackhat.

Tries and fails. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is cast as super-fit, super-intelligent hacker Nick Hathaway who, despite spending large portions of his life sitting in front of aforementioned computer, has the figure of a prize swimmer. He’s being given a chance by the FBI to redeem himself after laundering billions from banks, with a mission to find a cyber-terrorist who is causing meltdowns in nuclear reactors.

Mann tries a little too hard to make hacking look exciting, one of many tricks that fails is the unnecessary zoom-through screens and cables to show the data traveling at a microscopic level, like little beams of light. The white dots are the bad ones and they always turn on a little tiny light on a server. Never has a tiny light been so ominous.

In truth, some scenes involving Hathaway doing some hacking on a computer do contain substantial suspense and tension. This is undermined by a plethora of beeps and whistles that accompanies everything that pops up on the screen. Everything is exaggerated. They even make connecting a USB stick into a PC sound like loading an ammunition clip into a gun.

Before ripping into the film any further, it would only be fair to point out that Mann’s direction is stunning at times with some great aerial shots, shootouts, fist fights and chase scenes. It ups the ante Game of Thrones style by killing off some important characters. After that bold move, it all goes to pot.

This is writer Morgan Davis Foehl’s first big script and it’s a case of must do better next time. IMDB shows his previous experience is with Adam Sandler’s Click and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry in the editorial department. It looks like more light-hearted fare will be his forte as the required character development to give the film more depth is non-existent. Yeah, sure – throw in a Russian as a bad guy. Everyone else does. What first appeared that the main villain was modeled on Kim Dot Com, turns out the inspiration was more from a Scandinavian Porn Star. Morgan needs to lock himself in a room for a week and watch every single episode of The Wire non-stop to learn how to develop multi-dimensional characters. Or even just watch Heat, Morgan. Two master actors on either side of the law, both with their own flaws and virtues. Good vs Bad guys is getting boring.

As this film is about terrorism, they had to shoehorn something in about 9/11 didn’t they? It’s not very tastefully done. One of the characters had a husband that died in the attacks that day. When she dies, the last thing she sees is a tower. What were they thinking?

Another misstep is with the casting of the female lead. Wei Tang’s Chen Lien sounds like she is reading lines from an autocue most of the time, which includes how to strike a certain pose in response to what happens. The camera spends so much time on her and detracts from the experience by doing so. Well done to the cinematographer for managing to fit in her sports bra-encapsulated breasts into virtually every shot of her. Very subtle.

Things get really ridiculous by the end. We are reminded that Chris Hemsworth is in really good shape when he tapes a load of magazines to his stomach using masking tape. He also tapes a screwdriver to his left arm. It feels like a lame homage to Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. It first makes one wonder what DIY he may need to put up to save the day.

The climax takes place in a crowded Indonesian carnival which looks like Chinese New Year. Someone gets a screwdriver in the neck and the crowd doesn’t respond. They just walk on by. Really? Mann is as bad as Ridley Scott with his consistency nowadays. With this and Miami Vice he has shown capability of the worst drivel.