"This isn't about money, this isn't about politics. I can target anyone, anything."
Michael Mann in known for directing some of the most intense and action packed thrillers of recent years with Collateral and Heat. With this latest film with Chris Hemsworth he has clearly decided to cut out most of the action and intensity, which leaves us with… um.
Following a devastating explosion of a Chinese nuclear plant initiated by a mysterious computer hacker, convicted hacker Nicholas Hathaway (Hemsworth) is released to track down this attacker before he kills anyone else.
It does appear that the issue of computer hacking resonates even more in this specific time than it ever has previously, especially in film given recent events. So this would appear to be the perfect opportunity for Man to craft a well-paced thriller that can use this concept to its full advantage. The first half of this film does just that, racking up the tension as the hacker makes his demands, presenting the search for him in a cat and mouse fashion.
But as the film progresses it deviates from this tone to take on more of a generic espionage route. This is where the problems really start to show as the levels of suspense dissipate as does the attention to detail that holds the film throughout the first half.
The poorly plotted romance only worsens the clichés that pop up repeatedly. Furthermore the slow pace of a film like this works for the build-up, for the beginning of the plot. But as the story develops in this way ideally the pace should escalate to match it, but instead it dawdles on at the same painfully slow speed and eventually it just feels as if Blackhat is deliberately dragging out as long as it can.
The only exception is a very well-directed shootout, something that Michael Mann always excels at. But there’s not enough of that in the rest of the film to match it. I’m not saying that a shootout would be the only way to make this film better, but it would help if we got there faster. This film goes well over the two hour mark so on reflection, even though I thought the first half was better, it could have been drastically cut down given that half of what they set up does not completely pan out.
There is a quality to Chris Hemsworth that almost carries this film beyond what it actually is. But it’s not enough to make up for the fact that his character overall is very poorly written. He struggles to connect with the viewer and he fails completely to generate any kind of gravitas that would help to add to that promising early potential, like I said, he came close to giving this film a redeeming feature. And though I may accept that he’s a Norse god or James Hunt I cannot see him as an expert computer hacker.
One redeeming feature might be the style of the film. It is shot in a very crisp, modern look that could be confused with one from David Fincher, but of course it lacks the sold script. It is the reason why you should not jump to blame Mann instantly because he is good and does everything he can with a rather laughably bad written script. The signature handheld camera techniques all make the few action scenes stand out.
I suppose I may be spoiling the film here but what the hell, the villain who was set up really well, is revealed to be someone who simply wants money with no deeper motivation or any kind of distinguishable traits. The only thing that really marks him as a unique character is the fact that he’s not handsome like our hero. So at the end of the day this is an ugly villain being defeated by the good looking hero who also happens to be smart and strong and great with a gun and instantly attractive to women. Yep.
Though it may be stylish the few inspired moments are out of place with the low budget feel the film has overall, combined with a generic script and a story arc that moves at a snail’s pace. Additionally the term Blackhat means cybercriminal and was derived from the villains in westerns, known for their black hats, they had more gravitas than this film.