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Review: Blackhat (2015)

Blackhat (2015)

Directed by: Michael Mann

Premise: A hacker causes a meltdown at a Chinese nuclear power plant and manipulates Wall Street trading. In response, Chinese and American law enforcement recruit a convicted cybercriminal to track down the hacker.

What Works: For what it’s worth, Blackhat has a diverse cast, which is rare in Hollywood films. In the past few years there has been an increase in Chinese actors and locations in mainstream American cinema but in many cases this has been a transparently obvious appeal to the Chinese film market and those who control it; the Chinese characters and components are usually incidental to those pictures. Large portions of Blackhat take place in China and other Asian countries but their inclusion is organic and generally credible to the story. Of the central cast, Chinese actress Tang Wei makes the strongest impression as part of the team attempting to thwart the hacker.

What Doesn’t: Blackhat is a Michael Mann film and as such knowing viewers will come to the picture with certain expectations. Mann’s movies, which include Heat, The Insider, Collateral, and Miami Vice, are typically made with a sleek and polished visual style and generally tells stories of criminal intrigue. While Blackhat does have some of the signature Mann visuals like gritty gunplay and helicopter shots of nighttime cityscapes, this movie is a disappointing entry in Mann’s filmography. There are a lot of technical and filmmaking flaws in Blackhat, most notably the sound. The dialogue is obviously rerecorded in places and the sound mix is sometimes muddled. The action direction is also lacking. Action scenes were something Michael Mann typically did well, especially in Heat and Miami Vice, but the action sequences of Blackhat range from mediocre to awful. The movie lacks tension and the action scenes don’t have a dramatic shape or a narrative purpose. That is the defining problem of Blackhat; the film does not make any sense. The filmmakers drop the audience into the middle of the action but where the characters are going and why is never clear. The story does not have a clearly defined goal. We know that the Chinese and American law enforcement officers want to catch the hacker but that’s about it. The way the filmmakers dramatize the investigation keeps the audience at bay and the film does not offer the basic exposition needed to understand what is happening. The characters are equally remote. The film is led by Chris Hemsworth as a former cybercriminal who the government has sprung from prison in order to help with the investigation. Hemsworth is usually a pretty good actor, even when he’s been stuck in bad movies, but in Blackhat Hemsworth is adrift. The script does him no favors since it offers no opportunities for characterization and Hemsworth is unable to distinguish himself from the rest of the cast. Hemsworth’s costars are stuck in a similar situation. With the exception of Tang Wei, no one is anything but their job title. Even as characters solely defined by their employment status, the people of this film don’t behave believably. The furlough of Hemsworth’s character comes with the condition that he not use a computer but in the scene directly following his release he does exactly that and after a brief protest the matter is dropped entirely. That kind of stupidity is rampant in Blackhat, as the characters are able to jet from one place to another without a credit card and enter into foreign nations without proper identification. In one of the movie’s silliest scenes, Hemsworth’s character tapes phone books to his body to serve as body armor and apparently the yellow pages are enough to stop a bullet because they stop several direct hits.

Bottom Line: Blackhat is a very stupid and sloppily made film. It’s especially disappointing that this comes from Michael Man, a filmmaker who is capable of so much more.

Episode: #527 (February 1, 2015)