Michael Mann is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but his style has gained him a circle of ardent admirers. His style is distinctly masculine — but not ridiculously so, like Michael Bay — with an ’80s-throwback sensibility that is, in a way, almost quaint. And I’ll admit that he has produced some exceptional films, like Manhunter, or Heat, as his obsessively talented male leads push themselves to Pyrrhic victories. Thematically, Blackhat fits in perfectly with the rest of Mann’s work. Its execution, however, seems unusually slapdash and disappointing.
We do have the requisite super-capable lead. Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) is a hacker who’s always one of the smartest guys in the room. Imprisoned for some low-level credit-card scams, he gets out to help his old MIT roommate Chen Dawai (Wang Leehom) track down a much more dangerous cyber-criminal who has already caused a meltdown in a Chinese nuclear reactor and a spike in worldwide soy futures. Along for the ride is Dawai’s sister, Lien (Tang Wei), who’s bound to fall in love with Nick, and Nick’s FBI and US Marshall handlers (Viola Davis and Holt McCallany).
Oddly enough, one of the few things I don’t have much complaint with is the hacking itself. Maybe it’s just that, being as familiar with computers as I am, I’ve burned out all my outrage on films that are much worse. Yes, Blackhat indulges in fearmongering to build suspense, but it’s nowhere near as ridiculously bad as Men, Women & Children or Disconnect. Computers here are not magic and hackers are not wizards, the way they were in The Net, among other early-Internet thrillers. And the dialogue is nowhere near as laughable as in Hackers. Even the title points towards a more nuanced understanding of “hackers”, recognizing a difference between the “black-hats” out for greed and destruction and the “white-hats” who hack systems to understand their vulnerabilities and help defend them. And the attack itself — one canned tool installs a back-door into a system before injecting some custom-built code to have a particular effect — is a pretty realistic way this sort of thing might be executed.
The problem is in, well, almost everything else. While it doesn’t horribly screw up the hacking angle, TV and Adam Sandler editor Morgan Davis Foehl’s script is bad in almost every other aspect. It’s a mass of clichés from start to finish, and none of it makes any sense. The climactic confrontation has one guy getting stabbed in the head and another guy waving a pistol around wildly, both in between long orderly lines of Indonesians marching in some local celebration, and nobody bats an eye at them until the automatic weapons come out.
On top of that, the picture looks terrible. The colors are muddy and indistinct, and that’s even when you can see them through the violent shaking of the camera in every scene. Even worse, composer Harry Gregson-Williams has publicly stated that the score he and Atticus and Leo Ross produced has been “sliced and diced”, and indeed what’s left is unremarkable electrosynth blandness.
Like him or not, Michael Mann is an auteur with a distinctive voice. But even if you like the sorts of films he makes, Blackhat is a real stinker.
Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.