It’s hard not to have expectations upon walking into a screening of Blackhat, the new cyber-thriller from director Michael Mann (Collateral). It’s only been a few months since the Sony hacks, which makes a film of this nature ripe for the choosing among moviegoers. That and the fact the Sexiest Man Alive is the primary cast member should make it a lock for Box Office Champion. I would reckon to say that neither of these points were effective, given the fact that Blackhat was a massive bomb at the box office (its budget was $70 million and it only made $4 million during its opening weekend run). Truth is, I wanted to like Blackhat, but not even Michael Mann’s capable direction or Chris Hemsworth’s good looks could save this movie from drastically plummeting into the financial abyss, or even into the bucket of January garbage.
Hemsworth plays Nick Hathaway, a highly skilled computer hacker who has found himself in a bit of luck when one of his codes is found in a malware that was used as a terrorist attack in in China. Hathaway’s goal is to find out who is behind the attack, all while getting mixed up in the affairs of the Chinese and American governments. On paper, it sounds intriguing, but on the screen, it just isn’t, and I’m not entirely sure who is to blame.
On the one hand, you have the screenwriters (Michael Mann and Morgan Davis Foehl), who write at such an ill pace that it’s often rough to sit through. Then there’s Mann himself, an accomplished filmmaker with a steady career, who seems like he may being doing this for the check alone. What a shame, because I’m quite fond of him and a lot of his movies (see Heat, The Last of the Mohicans, or Public Enemies). As I was watching this movie, I was trying to figure out just what went wrong in consideration of his past work.
Then you have the cast, seriously misguided by Mann and feeling like they’re there for the cash too. Is it funny to say that I buy Chris Hemsworth more as a hammer-wielding Norse god than a computer hacker? It’s true. As the running time dragged on, I kept laughing internally at just how out of place Hemsworth seemed in the grand scheme of things, and this is coming from someone that really, really, really likes him in most of his movies. I mean, the guy is Thor! He’s awesome. But as a computer hacker? Just no.
Viola Davis shows up as an FBI agent, and she’s Viola Davis so I can’t really critique her (I love Viola), but the main supporting player of the film is Chen Lien (Tang Wei). I won’t lie to you, she’s awful. There were a few dialogue driven scenes between Lien and Hathaway that actually made me feel sorry for Hemsworth for having to be in scenes with her. She’s that bad.
The main people who are endorsing this movie are the real life computer hackers, who are claiming that the film’s depiction of hackings is on point. I’m no hacker, but I can’t say I don’t believe those people. The pervasive hacker mumbo-jumbo all sounds trustworthy, but it’s also enough to put a casual viewer to sleep (I thrive on watching lots of movies, and even I almost nodded off a few times!), and it’s further proof of the fact that just because a film accurately depicts the subject it’s portraying doesn’t make it good entertainment.
I won’t claim that the movie is bottom-of-the-barrel terrible, though, because it isn’t. If I hadn’t known beforehand that Michael Mann was the director, I wouldn’t have guessed, but there are some well-done moments and sequences throughout. This isn’t a thriller without thrills, because there are some. There’s a tense gun fight toward the finale of the film that has Mann’s fingerprints all over it, and it was an engaging sequence that would’ve went down better if the sluggishness of the pace hadn’t already drained my energy. Also, there are a few tracking shots throughout the movie that literally go through an online network which I found to be Fincher-esque and admirable. But then it always reverts back to dull dialogue.
I think what is most upsetting about this movie is the involvement of such talent. Michael Mann is a good filmmaker (dare I say prominent?), clearly worthy of staging large and impactful scenes (the iconic street shootout in Heat), while also capable of capturing small personal moments (see Public Enemies). He can also lay on riveting intensity (Collateral is 120 minutes of intensity). Unfortunately, there too few Mann-y moments in Blackhat, and when they did come, I had already checked out. It’s a sluggish and boring cyber-thriller, one that left a bad taste in my mouth but a firm belief that Mann isn’t done making good movies.
Rated R for violence and some language
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis
Written by Michael Mann and Morgan Davis Foehl
Directed by Michael Mann
Photo credits: GeekBinge.com, IMDB.com, USAToday.com