MOVIE REVIEW: BLACKHAT / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: MICHAEL MANN / SCREENPLAY: MORGAN DAVIS FOEHL / STARRING: CHRIS HEMSWORTH, WEI TANG, LEEHOM WANG, VIOLA DAVIS / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 20TH
With a back catalogue that includes Miami Vice (both the TV and movie versions), Heat, The Last of the Mohicans and Collateral, any new film from director Michael Mann is to be looked forward to. Never mind one that deals with the fertile world of computer hacking, a genre that hasn't been particularly well served on screen since 1995's Hackers and 1992's Sneakers, (Swordfish barely counts!)
Blackhat starts with a visualisation of what a hack physically looks like, similar to the way it was shown in Hackers, only this time zooming in on electronic circuits to the nth degree, until the binary 1's and 0's can be seen as pulses of light pulses rippling though the system. The micro is soon abandoned for the macro, however as its revealed that a "Blackhat" hacker has hacked the control room of a Chinese nuclear power plant using a remote access tool (RAT) causing a massive accident. In the ensuing investigation, lead investigator Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang) discovers that the RAT the hacker used just happens to have been based upon one written by his former college roommate. Said roommate, Nick Hathaway (Hemsworth), now resides in prison in the US for his own Blackhat hacking activities, but it's not long before Chen and his sister Lien (Wei Tang) arrange for Hathaway's temporary release to help trace the hacker and they go gallivanting around South East Asia chasing leads along with Hathaway's two FBI chaperones, as played by Viola Davis (who delivers almost all the humour in the film) and Holt McCallany.
The handheld digital video style that has become Mann's signature in recent years causes problems for Blackhat from the off as the first half of the film very slowly introduces our characters amidst a mess of choppy editing and shaky-cam, only settling down once the much more impressive action scenes kick in. The focus and intent shown in those action scenes, in a brutal restaurant fistfight, a shootout amongst shipping containers and another at a roadside, make it appear as if they are from a completely different director than the messy start of the film. While elements of these action scenes are very impressive - the nastiness of the injuries Hathaway inflicts in the restaurant, the aural assault from the later gunfights - there's nothing here that even tries to match the bank heist sequence from Heat.
When the film does finally settle down it's into an almost Bond-style thriller with Hathaway and co. chasing traces of the mysterious hacker and his goons from country to country, but when his identity is finally revealed, it's with a resounding feeling of ‘Who's that?’ While stunt casting can back fire, this is the director who put Pacino and De Niro at odds across a coffee table and cast Tom Cruise as a villain, so going with a relative unknown for the part turns the reveal into somewhat of a damp squib.
From this point on, the hacker's plan is shown to be relatively small potatoes in comparison to the first act's destabilisation of a nuclear power plant, there's a middling final confrontation with a hint of an ultra-violent McGuyver to it, before a very unsatisfying non-ending. Blackhat may get the technical aspects of hacking mostly right, soon abandoning those fancy visualisations of the computer world in favour of PCs and coffee, and eschewing the flash of Swordfish. But the lack of engaging characters, a weak love story and that messy first half, mean that there is still plenty of room out there for a great modern hacking movie.
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10