DIRECTOR: Michael Mannblackhat

CAST: Chris Hemsworth, Tang Wei, Viola Davis, Ritchie Coster, Holt McCallany, Yorick van Wageningen, Leehom Wang, Andy On, Manny Montana, William Mapother, Archie Kao, Shi Liang, Cheung Siu Fai, Adrian Pang, Jason Butler Harner, John Ortiz, Alexander von Roon

RUNNING TIME: 133 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: A joint tactical force between the FBI and the Chinese government recruit an imprisoned hacker (Hemsworth) to defuse a major cyber-attack…

 

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

It’s both a blessing and a curse that Blackhat opens in the wake of the much-publicised Sony hack. The relevance it now exhibits concerning major cyber-hacks by ruthless criminals is unprecedented, and gives the film more of a public awareness because of it. However, it’s a negative because if there’s anything the incident at Sony has taught us, cyber-hackers are now being seen as much more of a major threat than ever before. The idea that highly classified information can be available to criminals at the push of a keyboard is much more frightening now because we have seen what damage it can do.

It’s a frightening new side of terrorism, something that director Michael Mann cannot seem to comprehend this time round. Instead, the man who previously brought more intriguing properties such as Heat, Collateral and Public Enemies to the screen plays Blackhat more as a conventional spy thriller, only with more laptops. He basically has us watching the most beautiful computers hackers that casting agents can find typing on computers for a good two-and-a-bit hours; which, unless you’re into that field of technology yourself, makes for an increasingly dull experience for everyone else. After all, two-and-a-bit hours is FAR too long for a film like this, where the most exciting thing to happen is a password login. You could have easily cut out at least half an hour of footage and nothing of vital importance would have been missed; it would certainly help the film drag a little less, getting less caught up in expositional dialogue and actually developing these characters we’re supposed to care about.

Nobody’s going to fault the actors, including lead Chris Hemsworth, because they’re all stuck with what we like to refer to as “lamppost roles” – they cast a radiant glow on their surrounding areas, but at the end of the day they’re just inanimate objects. The usually-reliable Viola Davis, for instance, is only there to give information with the only trace of character coming from a forced conversation – then again, it’s not so much a conversation as it is a single line – about her late husband. Hers is a textbook lamppost role; doing next to nothing that helps her stand out, but she looks good while doing it. Hemsworth, however, is the one who is at least attempting to make the most out of a lesser situation – despite having zero personality to work with, he’s still got that screen presence that landed him that coveted place in Marvel’s cinematic universe, and he’s a capable physical actor in a few of the many gunplay scenes this movie has to offer (it wouldn’t be a Michael Mann film without some kind of gunplay). Outside of that, we’re never given much insight to his or others’ characters, and is even a participant in a forced romance with fellow hacker Chen Lien (Tang Wei), which due to their overwhelming lack of chemistry just seems overly spontaneous without any build-up whatsoever. They don’t even show their progression as a couple, and any scenes that should have them interacting like human beings just has them separately looking at their phones or laptops – to its credit, though, that does seem accurate with today’s young couples…

Overall, it’s definitely a style-over-substance movie which, if you’re already a fan of Mann’s heavy use of shaky-cam and digitalised cinematography, should hold up well enough. But if you’re not, then it’s going to be a heavy drag; it’s used in every scene, even when it’s not called for, and can get more tiresome than you can probably imagine. Some action scenes prove effective, such as one later in the movie involving a slow-motion explosion that’s actually very well done, and though it ends on something of an anti-climax there’s a lot of effort put into staging this particular set-piece (even though it makes no real sense when you start to see it in practise rather than theory). This is certainly not Mann’s finest work, but at least fans of the director will be satisfied with how he can still stage an action scene competently.

For every other aspect, Blackhat is just tediously dull with a plot you find yourself not caring much for and characters you give a crap about even less. For a movie about computer hijackers, it’s certainly feels far too computerised…

SO, TO SUM UP…

Blackhat simply doesn’t cut it when it comes to portraying cyber-hackers in a thrilling light, instead delivering a deathly dull spy thriller with charisma-less characters portrayed by otherwise charismatic actors. Insert your own “CTRL-ALT-DELETE” joke here…