Sunday, January 18, 2015


Dir. Michael Mann

2 out of 5

Cyber-thrillers are notorious for aging poorly - the rapid progress of real-life technology makes it all but inevitable as the cutting-edge quickly turns into kitschy junk.  In one sense, that makes it easier to appreciate the efficiency of Blackhat, Michael Mann's film about a legendary hacker plucked from behind bars to hunt down and neutralize an unstoppable techno-terrorist.  Blackhat has the courtesy to be completely ludicrous right this moment, often for reasons that have nothing to do with its dull, prosaic approach to its otherwise timely subject matter.  One only hopes that technology advances far enough as to make Blackhat seem woefully obsolete and give audiences a reason to revisit the film, as there's almost nothing else to compel them otherwise.

After a shadowy figure commits a cyber-attack on a nuclear reactor in China and electronically manipulates the global commodities market, the U.S. and Chinese governments reluctantly team up to stop him.  The latter sends a brother-and-sister team of cyber security consultants to compare notes with the Americans' trump card: Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth), a convict set to win his freedom if he helps capture the bad guy.  Hathaway represents a new breed of the Hollywood hacker, which is actually the same as any standard action hero.  He's a computer whiz who's also found the time to become a top-notch detective, spy, combat strategist, bare-knuckle pugilist, and all-around MacGuyer-ish master of improvisation.  In fact, he's rarely seen behind a keyboard; it's as if Indiana Jones had been hiding in tech support all along.

Interestingly, Blackhat identifies technological supremacy as a feminine trait, at least early on.  The main Chinese agent (Leehom Wang) liaising with the FBI insists on deputizing his sister (Wei Tang), a hotshot systems analyst who falls for Hathaway almost immediately.  Viola Davis also co-stars as the American agent in charge of pursuing cyber crime, but she's given little to do besides take phone calls and stare at computer terminals.  Indeed, Blackhat's glaring flaw is its weak characterization, an issue that starts with its protagonist.  Hathaway projects an aura of invulnerability that dissipates any sense of tension the movie can muster, and his brassy confidence seems misplaced in a story that should be thriving on mystery and insecurity.  Further more, Hemsworth - best known for playing Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe - brings a god-like presence and a bad American tough-guy accent to a role that is completely wrong for him, but he's difficult to blame when saddled with such underwhelming material.  

The would-be thrills of Blackhat are too obscured by techno-babble and unclear objectives to make deciphering it all worth the effort.  It manages to be both bloated and underwritten, doddering along until its incongruously insane climax, which involves the villain - who isn't established until well into the second hour of the film - and Hathaway squaring off in the middle of an Indonesian spiritual festival.  Blackhat is also perversely banal for a Michael Mann film, as any visually compelling sequence is ruined by its far-fetched plot conveniences, or rushed character development, or shockingly bad audio dubbing.  A frustrating, confused misfire, Blackhat is an inept game of cat-and-mouse that unfolds at a snail's pace.

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