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February 24, 2015
Blackhat is a terrible movie. It’s probably best to open with that and not act all coy in the way some reviewers do to suggest there are are any parts of the film that are worthy of anyone’s time or attention. It boils down to two fatal problems: a very boring script and a horribly overrated and overindulged director who should have quit while he was ahead after making Heat (1995) and ride off into the sunset with a gleaming reputation fully intact.
There will be those who disagree with my thoughts on Michael Mann of course. Many have lauded plenty of his post-Heat efforts, The Insider (1999) and Collateral (2004) drew praise from audiences and critics alike but not all were so keen on his more recent endeavours Miami Vice (2006) and Public Enemies (2009).
To be honest, I thought they were all amply overrated. Michael Mann and Heat have become one of those strange things in film that are considered heresy to criticise or dislike, much like Kubrick or now Christopher Nolan. I will forever remain mystified as to why this is, and his latest Blackhat does nothing to change that.
The story follows Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) a talented but reckless computer hacker gone astray and now serving a 15 year prison sentence. An opportunity arises to return to civilisation when sections of a computer code he wrote many years ago appear in a malware/virus that triggered a terrorist attack in China. With FBI Agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis) on his back after a hack into the NSA, Nick must track down the hacker helping the terrorists… or some heroic thing like that.
One of the fundamental problems with the film is Mann’s choice of shooting style. Adopted in most of his films since Collateral, it is simply very distracting and incredibly unappealing to the eye. I’m assuming this style is chosen to add some layer of gritty realism to the picture, placing the audience into the position of security guard or surveillance monitor in some deep international conspiracy.
I’ll never be a fan of this approach, and in this case it doesn’t work at all as it just makes watching the tiresome, recycled plot and even more painful event the way it looked for the actors whilst filming it. Dancing constantly between being an uber-real, serious piece and a downright bonkers comic book movie.
Chris Hemsworth and Viola Davis seem thoroughly bored by the whole experience, slogging through the two plus hours runtime with little humanity or fervour in their performances and frankly it makes Thor look like a relatable and down-to-earth character.
In some ways, it is the non-human characters that pose the greatest problems in this film, and indeed in many cyber-thrillers before it. Computer screens, and super-powered technological machines with 50,000 diamond coated quartz processors (that is the gist of what they were saying. I think) and people spouting useless jargon that 90% of normal cinemagoers don’t understand just isn’t riveting viewing and stands in the way of most movies in this genre.
What Mann and co-writer Morgan Davis Foehl fail to do is find any reason for the audience to become involved in what is being said and instead leave us feeling completely nonplussed by the whole affair, something I frequently find with Mann’s films: a detachment and disparity between the characters and the audience.
Blackhat struggles with a huge case of bipolar disorder, a script that doesn’t really know if it’s Bond, Bourne or Ethan Hunt, constantly veering wildly between the three.
As much as I’m a fan of Chris Hemsworth, and in particular his work as the Mjolnir-wielding God from Asgard, he is lumbered with a poorly written character (a computer-hacker/ bodybuilder/ male model) that it is impossible to like or feel any kind of emotion for. Thank God Avengers: Age of Ultron is out this year.
Blackhat is in UK cinemas from February 20th