BLACKHAT [2015]

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Directed by Michael Mann, Written by Morgan Davis Foehl

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Wei Tang, Leehom Wang, Holt McCallany

Blackhat seems to have gotten a lot of bad press and I can’t quite work out why. Sure, this is far from a perfect film. But surprisingly, the miscast Hemsworth does a decent job (though I have only ever seen him as a superhero and an F1 driver), and the rest of the cast are great, Viola Davis in particular as a tired FBI agent. The globetrotting adventure is interesting and doesn’t become silly and implausible for the most part, plus Mann has not lost his ability to orchestrate a damn fine firefight. The computer hacker angle is handled well, better than most other movies tackling the subject – not a hard task I admit – but the combination of the hidden hacker world, the limited colour palette and the international backdrops help create a dystopian feeling. Unfortunately, the world of Blackhat isn’t far from the state of the world right now.

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This film didn’t even get a theatrical release down under, which has me thinking that this could be Mann’s last bigger-budget outing, which saddens me as this movie has some beautiful camera work that not only makes the action scenes unforgettable, but it also pushes the limits of digital film-making to its logical extreme. The opening illustrates this as some very creative camerawork is used as special effects. It is hard to describe: the camera continues to zoom into objects until they pixelate and then turn into something else until that is zoomed in so far that the image breaks apart again into another image, rinse and repeat for a very hypnotic sequence. It is very unique, I have never seen anything quite like it, and it hooked me much like the Stargate from 2001. Multiple fascinating camera angles and shots are used as well, causing the action to look and feel like a sort of violent ballet at times, and many of the shots achieved remind me of Terry Gilliam and his constant crooked angles.

This photo provided by Universal Pictures shows, Chris Hemsworth, left, as Nicholas Hathaway, and Viola Davis, as FBI Special Agent Carol Barrett, in Legendary’s film, "Blackhat," from director/producer Michael Mann. (AP Photo/Legendary Pictures - Universal Pictures)

This is easily Mann’s best film for some time – though I did enjoy Public Enemies for what it was – and the narrative is believable despite the globetrotting that takes Nick Hathaway (Hemsworth) from an American prison to Jakarta via China and Hong Kong thanks to a massive disaster that was triggered by a malicious hacker. One of the film’s biggest strengths, behind the camerawork, is that the story is told from the perspective of the Chinese government. Had this followed the US government in a similar situation, the movie really would have been a bore. But following the story from the side of the Chinese gives the film a unique feeling, though we do also follow the actions of the FBI who have freed Hathaway, keeping him on a leash so he can help them stop the hacker responsible for the disaster that began the movie. Hathaway may be a hacker, but he is also willing to physically cross borders without a second thought. This separates him from a good majority of other hackers, most prominently the main villain of the movie, who’s destructive behaviour and disregard for human life angers Hathaway enough to make this hunt across the globe personal. Pivotal plot points add to the story, feeding Hathaway in his quest for vengeance. The narrative twists and turns, and the cast of characters make it hard to pinpoint who the real villain is. In addition to this, while I usually rally against love stories in films like this, it actually serves a purpose here, rather than being there just for the hell of it.

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In saying all this though, Blackhat is far from perfect. Hemsworth does better than one would expect, but he is still miscast, and scenes of him in prison with hair looking perfect – as if he had an infinite supply to hair gel – seem a bit silly. The script isn’t anything impressive either, but it isn’t horrible. The final act was underwhelming to say the least, especially after the firefight that precedes it. It looked nice, but was absurdly implausible. The film also takes a long time to kick off, talk about a slow burn. But it is worth it, even just for the orchestral action scenes alone – though with only two major firefights, I can’t help but feel a little short-changed; I think the film could have been more fun and filled with more action, rather than dwelling on the politics and the world of underground hackers, though the latter was well realised.

I don’t quite understand why this film was received so poorly. Yeah it should have been a different actor playing Hathaway, almost any actor, but he gets the job done. And I’m sure he is a looker for the ladies. Plus it is fantastically shot and has some great action that only falls down during the final act, though the very final scene is fantastically shot, and leaves the story open for thought.

3.5/5 – This and Citizenfour would make a GREAT double billing to open the eyes of the world to the society we really live in.