Review: “Blackhat” Is A Cyber Thriller With No Thrills
Director: Michael Mann
Screenwriter: Morgan Davis Foehl
Primary Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Wei Tang, William Mapother, Leehom Wang, and Holt McCallany
Has anyone gone back and watched any movies or television from the late 80’s and early 90’s? This was back when the computers that were once the dreams of scifi authors were not only becoming a reality, but something that a common person could own. As such there are times when characters will threaten to end the world with a floppy disc, and we have a good laugh about it now. It makes a lot of things feel very dated, but media needs to adapt to the changing times. For example, the sitcom situation of “they forgot their wallet and they went on a road trip! Time to go on a wacky adventure to try and find them!” just doesn’t happen anymore. Movies aren’t any different as the prevalence of computers causes more and more “cyber thrillers” to pop up. It takes a very talented set up to make typing on a computer exciting.
Blackhat might have a fairly decent cast and the very talented Michael Mann directing it, but it can’t escape poor pacing and feeling like it was made a decade ago.
A hacker manages to break into a nuclear power plant in China and turns off the cooling system nearly sending it into meltdown. Dawai Chen (Leehom Wang) is called by his superiors to look at the system and, along with his sister Lien Chen (Wei Tang), sees that the code is similar to a hack that happened on US soil. Dawai manages to convince FBI supervisor Carol Barrett (Viola Davis) that they need Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) to help them. Hathaway is a hacker that Dawai worked with in college, and the main author of the original code that broke into the reactor, and in prison. The group of unfortunate allies are running out of time as more attacks loom.
There are lots of reason that Blackhat is a pretty terrible movie; however, it does do one thing right. The cast is very international and features the strange relationship the US has with China in this global age. If there is one thing that can be praised for this movie it’s that there is plenty of good casting as far as minorities and women, which I appreciate. That is about the only good thing I can say about this movie, though.
Michael Mann once made great or at least good movies, but this one is a wash. The camera bounces around so much I was wondering if I somehow managed to stumble into the new Paul Greengrass Bourne movie. There are a couple scenes of people running that bounce around so much I wouldn’t be surprised if they made people with weak stomachs nauseous. When the camera isn’t bouncing around like a toddler hooked up to an IV of sugar, the rest of the movie is just as disjointed. The beginning of the movie begins with a scene of the hack taking place within the computer that felt like something I would have seen ten years ago. I understand that showing that a system is compromised is difficult to film, but there must have been a less melodramatic way.
As I said earlier there are some things that just feel dated almost right away, and Blackhat is a movie that feels like it was made before people understood what computers can and cannot accomplish. There were lots of shots of people hitting enter in very dramatic ways that were meant to seem like someone pulling a gun, but just come off as laughable. If you’re trying to be dramatic, and I want to start laughing, then we have a problem. It means your drama is falling way short and it takes all of the “thrill” out of this “cyber thriller”. Even when the final motive for the attacks is revealed, it’s done in such a way that illicits almost no emotion from the audience. It was a perfect example of failing to understand what “show, don’t tell” means, and the moment that was supposed to raise the stakes feels like they lowered them even more.
The movie is also way too long; it clocks in at over two hours long with no real reason behind this. The plot doesn’t make much sense to begin with, and they don’t spend that extra time trying to make it make sense. They were much more interested in making Hemsworth’s Hathaway not only a computer genius but also able to break a chair over someone’s head. Hathway is one of those action hero archetypes that makes no sense as he jumps wildly around from typing furiously at a computer to chasing the bad guys in a bulletproof vest. I almost feel like they should have split him into two different people, but then there wouldn’t be a reason for Hathaway to hook up with Lien because, of course, they do.
The cast looks mostly embarrassed to be there, with the great Viola Davis being the standout. She doesn’t have much of a personality, but she does get some great one liners and they never insinuate that she shouldn’t hold a position of authority because she is a women when things inevitably go south. Hemsworth is here to try and prove that he could have a career outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and this won’t the movie he should show people to prove that. His accent is hilarious in the worst kind of way, and while he has the chops to be an action hero he would be better off calling his brother Liam to see if there is an opening in the next Expendables movie. Wang isn’t given much to do as Dawa, aside being the B team to Hemsworth’s A team, and Tang is only there to be a love interest. Holt McCallany shows up as the US Marshall in charge of Hathaway and doesn’t do much but hang around in the background.
Blackhat suffers from the cardinal sin of a thriller not having any thrills. Between the overly long running time, scatterbrained plot, and incoherent directing this one will be a footnote in the careers of its cast and director. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you want to spend two hours trying to figure out why Thor from Marvel (Hemsworth), Amanda Waller (Davis) from DC’s Suicide Squad movie, and Wade (McCallany) from 2010’s The Losers are hanging out together.