Michael Mann is a director that usually catches my attention. The 71-year old Mann has made several films over the years that I deeply love – movies like “The Last of the Mohicans” and “Heat”. It’s my strong affection for his good films that enables me to overlook his bad ones like “Miami Vice” and “The Keep”. The big question for me is which kind of movie is “Blackhat”? Does Mann give us another signature rock-solid thriller, or does this film qualify as a disappointing clunker?
So far it hasn’t been a good ride for “Blackhat”. Very few critics have given the film high marks and it’s already been considered a box office bomb. Unfortunately the criticisms have merit and it doesn’t take long to understand why the film was dumped in the January movie release graveyard. The most disappointing thing is that the film has a very timely and relevant concept. But that concept drowns in vast chasms of monotony and lethargy.
Chris Hemsworth steps back from his popular Marvel superhero persona to play an incarcerated computer hacker named Nick Hathaway. After a cyberterrorist triggers an explosion at a Chinese nuclear power plant, Hathaway agrees to help the FBI and the Chinese government catch the perpetrator in exchange for having his sentence commuted. After about two lines of political wrangling and negotiations Nick is out of jail and the internet manhunt begins.
Hathaway (who looks like he’s been at a GQ photo shoot instead of a penitentiary) is joined by an old friend and Chinese cyber officer named Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang), FBI Agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis), and Dawai’s sister Lien (Tang Wei) who out of the blue becomes Hathaway’s lover. The group tracks their target from the United States to China to Malaysia. Mann knows how to shoot locations and some of the film’s best moments involve his camera sweeping over a landscape or tracking down tight alleys. It’s certainly a better alternative than the constant shots of people staring at computer screens.
Speaking of that, we get plenty of scrolling digits and keyboard tapping. Computers obviously play a key role in the story, but it seems like we spend an eternity logging in, logging out, typing in the code, and so on and so on. I’m sure a lot of it is realistic. In fact Wired magazine reported that hackers and security experts both commended the movie for its accurate portrayals. But honestly, after a while I didn’t care. There was just too much of it for me and sometimes it would grind the movie to a halt.
No such thing could be said about the action. Mann has always had an incredible eye for action sequences and it is no different here. And at times the action scenes actually jolted me back into the movie. Mann’s camera movements, his strategic angles, his intense use of sound and of his surroundings – all of these create some truly spectacular action scenes. Without question, the action is the star of the movie and I wish we had gotten more of it and less of the plodding story.
“Blackhat” is a movie built around a good idea and strengthened by some fantastic pulse-pounding action. But ultimately it sinks due to its tiresome, long-winded story. Even the always likable Chris Hemsworth can’t help the story. He seems completely out of character, he struggles with whatever kind of weird accent he’s going for, and I never felt a charismatic spark from him. His performance will undoubtedly have people questioning his abilities in roles outside of the superhero genre. I don’t know, chances are he was simply bored like I was through a lot of this movie.