Twitter Plot Summary: A hacker currently serving a prison sentence is allowed out to help prevent a terrorist attack.
It’s been nine years since Michael Mann’s last feature film, and twenty years since his seminal effort Heat. What we have here in Blackhat are your typical, gorgeous Mann cityscapes, his inventive use of darkness and light, and a story that delves into the world of hacking and related money making efforts. Chris Hemsworth is hacker Nick Hemingway, currently serving time for a matter surprisingly unrelated to his hacking skills, and a man who is very much in demand when the authorities discover that his code was used to take down a Chinese nuclear reactor. He’s allowed back out into the world in the hope that he can help the FBI and the Chinese government take down the man responsible before he does any more damage. No big ask, then.
After an opening sequence that is just like Tron but minus the tiny computer people, we’re straight into the heavy stuff of terrorism and the destruction of nuclear power stations, of Chris Hemsworth’s floppy fringe and his inexplicable relationship with Chen Lien (Wei Tang), which emerges completely out of nowhere. There’s probably hours of extra footage lying on a cutting room floor somewhere.
What Mann has always been capable of is structuring the perfect cinematic gun fight, achieving near perfection in the process. There isn’t anything here that is on par with the street battle in Heat, mostly because almost nothing can match that for pure technical beauty and dramatic tension. But each admittedly brief sequence of gunplay in Blackhat is incredibly well done, each different weapon has its own clear and distinct sound, each bullet impact having its own weight, its own believable sound.
A lot of effort has been put into making the technological side of the script legitimate – Mann reportedly put in a fair amount of research to ensure this side of things was accurate. Sadly this angle is almost entirely dropped by the second half in favour of mostly generic thriller territory. You can’t even call it an action thriller as Chris Hemsworth’s Nick Hathaway isn’t your archetypal action hero, more inclined to tap a few keys on a keyboard and ponder how best to proceed than to sprint from sequence to sequence in a desperate bid to be more energetic than Tom Cruise.
As you might expect, Hemsworth is a likeable lead, but somewhat miscast given his action/superhero hero status. He’s never entirely convincing as the hacker type, coming into his own a little more on the few occasions where he’s required to fire a weapon or get engrossed in a fistfight with the bad guys.
It’s neither an absolute disaster nor is it an essential Mann film, but it is competent and a demonstration of the things he does well as a director. The problem is the story itself, never quite sure of itself and prone to skirting vlose to greatness. What it does well is provide a gripping story and performances from some very serious people. There’s no pomp and circumstance, just a very believable story and a realistic villain in that he is a bit rubbish.