Michael Mann’s Blackhat is a cyber thriller that may be the most grounded of the genre. It doesn’t attempt to conceive extra levels of ridiculousness in trying to make hacking seem more deadly and sexy than it really appears. There are no live feeds of people being murdered with poisoned administered via page views. There are no hacking attempts to sabotage traffic lights, cars or microwaves. The targets are legitimate, the hacking is somewhat believable and not a single element of this scheme feels laughably exaggerated. Mann has managed to ground the idea of hacking without the needless bells and whistles of shirking reality. Which merely proves my theory: cyber thrillers do not make for exciting movies.
In between long strings of exposition and staring at computer screens, Mann attempts to build some spectacle from the inner workings of computers. Using computer graphics, we zoom inside the processors and mainframes where the inner lights signal the beginning of digital intrusion. These sequences resemble those medical series on cable where animation displays what is going on right now in somebody’s body experiencing pain. All these scenes need is some narration to describe just what is going on which would actually be rather helpful to the audience. Mann either wants to dazzle us with flashy visuals of technology or he just wants to prove to us how much he knows about this stuff.
The intricacies of computer hacking, though still dull when amped up by CGI, were still far more intriguing than the story. It’s another hacker terrorist plot in which a group of bad people conspire to terrorize the world and make a lot of money. They hack into a Chinese nuclear power plant and cause an explosion of radioactivity. Seeking to squash this kerfuffle quickly, the Chinese government teams up with the FBI to beat the hackers with a hacker. The imprisoned hacker released for the purpose of solving this mess is Hathaway. He’s played by a big and beefy Chris Hemsworth because you couldn’t have some intense action with a hacker too shrimpy or overweight. Also, just like the computer innard scenes, it gives the audience something nice to look at in all the tunnel vision.
Perhaps the fatal flaw of Blackhat is that it spends so much time trying to make sure all the pieces fit that it forgets to keep the attention of the audience. The characters just sort of exist for the purpose of rattling off information and dialogue. There is a love story weaved in with Hathaway and an agent’s sister, but it feels just as forced and planned with hardly any chemistry between the two. Another key aspect that seems entirely overlooked in all the running and gunning is any questioning of our society and how fragile it has become with easy access to total control. There’s no time for that when there are car combings, gun fights and knife play to be had in an attempt to wake you up for the second act.
Blackhat is at least capable in its attempts at being a thorough cyber thriller, but it becomes too obsessed with its own craftsmanship. The drama is just not there in a movie that’s wall-to-wall exposition, action scenes and flashy zooms on working computer parts. It’s a film that seems entirely made for those who focus on the little details that need to be pointed out or corrected when assembling a story. At the sacrifice of real character development and an intriguing commentary, Blackhat might just satisfy that crowd. Or anger that crowd in which case makes the movie a banal waste of time for everyone.
Reviewed by Mark McPherson, CinemaParadiso.co.uk