Due to the events of the last few months, the idea behind Michael Mann’s cyber-thriller, Blackhat, is one that feels incredibly potent. Last year’s Sony Hack, which saw the studios unreleased roster of films, make their way onto the Internet, seemingly in response to their upcoming Kim Jon Un assassination comedy, The Interview, has given Blackhat an added sense of terrifying reality. It actually has more in common with the cyber-attack made to Iranian power plants in 2005 though, when viscous malware knocked out cooling systems in the country’s plants. The film’s opening actually mirrors the very same idea, albeit in China, which instigates a joint investigation with America, to find the cyber-terrorists responsible. Chris Hemsworth-outacted here by his brawny chest and sleek, glossy hair- plays Nick Hathaway, a coding genius, currently doing time for computer crime. He’s offered a deal; his help in finding the people behind the hack, in exchange for his sentence to be expunged. Obviously he agrees (because potentially getting killed is way better than prison right?!) and what follows is a race against time to find the culprits, who could strike anywhere, at anytime.
Whilst Blackhat is Michael Mann at his most relevant, it’s also Mann at his most inaccessible, with the story often lost amongst all of the technical jargon. It’s nice to be challenged by cinema and Christopher Nolan had similar complaints from Interstellar, for being too in depth on the science front. I’d argue though, that whereas Nolan does a great job of challenging you with the scientific talk in Interstellar, Mann has lesser success with the techno-babble in Blackhat, partly due to the very nature of the subject. The concept itself is an interesting and scary one, but it’s inherently difficult to make people typing into computers and talking about code, exciting. Therefore, despite being a film about hacking, Blackhat often reverts to shoot-outs, knife-fights and running away from the baddies, in an attempt to breath life into the otherwise dull story. These explosions of violence are Blackhat’s saving grace, both exciting enough and shocking enough to jolt you out of your seat and sit up-right; it’s just a shame that everything in between feels lifeless and drab.
Blackhat suffers in its story, but Mann’s direction is never in doubt. If he’s proven anything over the course of his long career, it’s that he can do style and action better than most and the same applies here in both aspects. It’s the type of film where people walk around in slow-motion, wearing aviators, looking out at sunsets over city vistas; where the action is few and far between, but is tough, bloody and wincingly painful to watch. The look and feel of Blackhat just oozes coolness, with the action and locale’s feeling three-dimensional without the technology, through Mann’s use of digital film-making. In a way, it feels like another example in the argument for this style of film-making, with Mann making sure to get right into the action of each scene through the use of digital cameras.
Blackhat can be summed up then, as style over substance. It’s great to look at and the action sequences are solid; but it does lack the narrative vigour and moral complexities that one has come to expect from a Michael Mann film. This certainly isn’t his finest hour and doesn’t sit within the same realm of Heat, but that said, he’s still an interesting director to watch, even when he’s at his worst. Whether that’s enough of a reason to watch Blackhat, I’m not sure; but for a thriller, it isn’t particularly thrilling and a lot of the time, I was simply bored. I did like Chris Hemsworth’s hair though…
Image credit to http://www.wired.com