REVIEW: “Blackhat”


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 ever likable Chris Hemsworth can’t help it. He seems completely out of character, struggling 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.


18 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Blackhat”

  1. Hmmm. Second negative review I’ve read for this and I’ll probably give it a miss unless it’s an incredibly quiet week! I saw the trailer the other day before American Sniper and it looked like something from the 1990s (and not in a good way).

    • The movie flatlines on multiple occasions. I found myself dozing off in the theater. That never happens to me. Mann’s action is the stand out. He really knows how to shoot an action sequence. Everything else falls kind of flat. Even Hemsworth.

  2. Good review. This was a disappointment. I’ve seen people walk out on the one hour mark because it was dull. Hemsworth really looked bored and out of sorts with the role. It could have been shorter, the transition of events weren’t paced equally. There were some good scenes, but overall it was bland.

    • You sum it up perfectly. Hemsworth didn’t show an ounce of charisma. The dull patches were excruciating. I too had a couple of guys leave before my showing was over.

  3. Hey Keith! Not sure if you saw my review but we’re pretty much in agreement here. Hemsworth “looks like he’s been at a GQ photo shoot instead of a penitentiary” I know!! It’s just ludicrous and he’s like doing upside-down push up or whatever, ahah. It’s a huge misfire from Mann which is a shame as I usually LOVE his work. I mean this is a guy who did Heat and Last of the Mohicans!

    • Exactly! Hemsworth wasn’t convincing at all. He looked so out of place. But the material didn’t help him. We do get glimpses of the Mann we both really like, but as you said this is a misfire! Grrrrrr.

  4. Ouch!!! I expected this low score, bro, after catching your tone about it the other day. Can’t say I’m happy to hear it (or surprised). Mann has been faultering a LOT lately. Miami Vice was all style and absolutely no substance and Public Enemies was convoluted and meandering tosh. Collateral was the last decent thing he done and even the ending to that was very questionable. Such a shame! I really used to love Mann’s stuff. He was always a solid director.

    • You’re right about Mann. And the shame of it is we see bits of his brilliance particularly in the action scenes. But overall it has to many lulls and Hemsworth is either miscast or just uninterested. I don’t know but I keep thinking this should have been better.

      • I honestly don’t rate Hemsworth. The casting straight away was a bad idea for me. I reckon he’s trying ro being in a female audience with the choice of Hemsworth. 😦

      • Hemsworth is a generally likable guy but he still needs to prove himself as an actor. And man you should see him in this film. I swear he is the hunkiest most stylish convict you’ll ever see in a prison. It’s a bit preposterous. I think you’re probably right – let’s grab the female audience by casting Thor himself.

  5. Yeah Keith you’re spot-on with this one. Blackhat was a complete bore. If I knew anything about coding at all, I suppose that might have helped but I couldn’t agree with you more about there being far too many shots of people staring at computer screens. hahah

    • And isn’t that a shame? This is a pretty relevant topic that could’ve made for a good movie. I did love the action scenes but that isn’t enough to make me want to slog through Blackhat again.

      I think we know why it got a January release date.

      • Indeed sir. I’m still scratching my head as to why Mann felt Hemsworth was his guy. So, so odd. Not that I have much against Hemsworth, I think he’s very watchable. That literally seems to be the only reason he’s in it.

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