Mann and Hemsworth Deliver a Misfire with Blackhat
Review by Daniel Rester
Michael Mann has made some excellent character studies masked as action-thrillers over the years, from Heat (1995) to Collateral (2004). He also has a particular — and usually beautiful — way of shooting video at night in cities, as well as a stylistic touch in dealing with professional male characters that are either deep inside or outside the law. Romance doesn’t usually end well in a Mann film either.
Many of Mann’s directorial traits are apparent in his latest film, Blackhat, which stars the mighty Thor. I mean, Chris Hemsworth. Unfortunately Mann and Hemsworth’s efforts wind up going towards a misfire with Blackhat, a would-be thriller bereft of thrills.
Hemsworth stars as Nicholas Hathaway, a convicted man serving a sentence for cybercrimes. After a cyber-attack on both China and America, Hathaway is furloughed in order to help the American and Chinese governments track down the high-level cyberterrorist behind the attacks.
On Hathaway’s team are his old friend Chen (Wang Leehom) and Chen’s sister, Lien (Tang Wei), as well as two FBI agents (played by Viola David and Holt McCallany). Their task sends them on a globe-trotting mission to places like Hong Kong and Jakarta as they seek to stop a mysterious “black hat” hacker.
Blackhat is the type of thriller that could have easily had weight and insight but instead comes up as dull and clunky. The screenplay by Morgan Davis Foehl gives us a few interesting ideas about hackers’ effects on the world, but it mostly consists of paper-thin characters running around and typing on computers while spouting out bland technobabble. It’s also hard to get fully invested when the villain is kept at arm’s length throughout and a forced romance is thrown into the mix.
Mann tries a few filmmaking tricks to try and elevate the material, but even his punches have no oomph to them this time around. Aside from a cool POV shot inside a keyboard and a few elegant, blue-lit nighttime shots, the look of the film mostly comes across with a TV-like aesthetic that was thrown into an editing grinder (maybe that’s because four people edited the film). The cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh often involves low lighting and shaky movements, rendering some of the action completely incomprehensible; if Michael Bay decided to use GoPros in a tunnel, it might look something like this. The sound levels constantly going up and down partnered with Hemsworth’s here-and-there accent is also not a good addition to everything going on.
Two scenes do come across as exciting. One involves a car and a shootout while the other involves a couple of graphic murders in a crowded area. I wish the story, characters, or acting were able to match these intense scenes, but they mostly don’t. However, the locations have a lived-in feeling throughout, and the music score has some great piano-heavy passages; this at least lends atmosphere to most of the film.
Hemsworth and Davis do what they can and are solid throughout, but the rest of the cast members come up as just okay performance-wise. A few times it seems like lines are stumbled on, but it could have just been that the dialogue wasn’t cleaned up enough before shooting.
Blackhat is disappointing, messy, and boring for the most part. It does feature some standout moments, but not enough of them to make a big difference. Hopefully Mann will be back on his A-game next time around.
My Score: 2 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: C).
MPAA Rating: R (for violence and some language).
Runtime: 2 hours and 15 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: January 16th, 2014.