What the hell is happening to Michael Mann? After directing films like Collateral, Ali, The Insider, and Heat—one of my personal favorites—his last few movies haven’t been all that great. Miami Vice was a dud and Public Enemies was decent, but nothing spectacular, and now he brings us Blackhat, a film that strands a great cast in one of the most boring thrillers I’ve ever seen. What the hell is happening to Michael Mann?
Blackhat is a term for a computer hacker that uses his/her skills to do wrong. The focus in this film is on a blackhat that hacks into a Chinese nuclear power plant and causes a near-meltdown. Scary stuff for sure. Then, as usual, it just ends up being about money. The Chinese military assigns Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang) to the case and he brings in his network engineer sister, Chen Lien (Wei Tang) into the fold. He then seeks to work with the FBI and get his old college buddy, Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth), furloughed so he can help in the investigation. Nick was put away for hacking, but when it’s revealed that part of a code he wrote was involved in the power plant attack, the FBI lets him out. The hand on his short leash belongs to Agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis). From there, the plot becomes incomprehensible as it’s lost in a lot of jargon and murky character building. A laughable romantic subplot develops between Nick and Lien that becomes the main thrust of the movie. If there had been a previous relationship between the two, the plot would have worked, but here, it comes across as merely juvenile.
The list of problems with Blackhat is nearly endless. Let’s start with the extreme overuse of shaky cam. The way the camera is used and the takes that made it into the finished product felt like a fifteen-year-old made this film. I don’t know if Mann was going for a “real life” feel, but all the characters in this film are emotionless, either that or he’s lost the ability to know what a good take is. The plot is a jumbled mess that was just glossed over as quickly as possible like the characters were trying to pull off a magic trick and didn’t want the audience looking at it too long. I had no clue what was going on or who some of the characters were. It’s not really because the film was moving fast either, because this is a ridiculously boring film. It’s tough to make a compelling thriller when most of the action is people just typing on keyboards. The screenplay by Morgan Davis Foehl tries to be timely, but it just ends up being completely dull.
The cast assembled for Blackhat is great. I just wish they were great in the film. Hemsworth puts on a completely unbelievable and unnecessary American accent. It’s distracting and there’s no good reason for him not to be his native Australian or at least British. We already know that Hemsworth has acting chops and that he can carry an action film, but the script doesn’t support him in this endeavor. Davis looks absolutely bored by the dry and sterile dialogue she has to vomit, however there were flashes there of the no nonsense attitude she may bring to the role of Amanda Waller in the upcoming Suicide Squad film, so that’s something, I guess.
Overall, Blackhat is a huge disappointment. What could have been a taut thriller for the 21st century is a film that gets bogged down in never-ending tech-speak that could be accurate, but is too dry and boring to keep an audience’s attention. Add to the fact that the script makes it impossible to care for any of the characters and you’ve got a film that belongs in the movie wasteland that is January. Skip it.