Blackhat, a colossal failure at the box office earlier this season. We mix director Michael Mann, star Chris Hemsworth and a cyber-thriller story....should be pretty good, right? Reviews and a very poor box office seem to indicate otherwise. Where does it end up then for this Michael Mann/Chris Hemsworth fan?
At a nuclear power plant in Hong Kong, a hacker causes the coolant pumps to overheat and eventually cause an immense explosion. Not long after, the same hacker unleashes his work on a mercantile exchange, making millions of dollars in the process by placing stocks in the right place. Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang), a military officer in China's cyber warfare unit, has now been placed in charge of the investigation, tasked with finding those individuals responsible for the attacks. As he investigates the attacks and how the hacker pulled them off, Chen realizes the code the hacker is using was actually written by...Chen himself, years before when he was in college. He actually wrote it with his roommate, Nicholas Hathaway (Hemsworth), now wasting in prison for a sentence because of his own hacking and computer crimes. Working together, Hathaway is granted release to help track down the hacker but time is in short supply. Could this hacker unleash another attack? If so, what's his end game?
I'm a huge Michael Mann fan. I love Last of the Mohicans, Heat, Thief, Collateral, and even like his less well-received efforts like Miami Vice, Public Enemies, and yes, this movie, Blackhat. I liked it. I did. I understand the objections but in spite of them a bit (while admitting they VERY much exist), I enjoyed this most recent Mann flick. Now that said, it seems not too many other people did. Released near the new year, 'Blackhat' cost around $70 million but earned only $17 million around the world. It's rocking a 5.4 at the IMDB and a 34% at Rotten Tomatoes. In other words, not good At All. There are some huge flaws that should have been dealt with, but if you're a Michael Mann fan, there's enough here to give a slight recommendation.
Probably the biggest complaint I have is that this movie feels far more like a cyber-thriller you would have seen in the late 1990s or even early 2000s, movies like Swordfish, Sneakers, The Net, Enemy of the State and many others. It feels dated, even a little past its prime. Yes, computer hacking is at an all-time high -- yeah for identity theft! -- but it's more the way Mann brings it to life. The opening scene as the power plant gets taken down "follows" the code as it races through the wires and computers and yeah, been there and done that countless times before. If this intro is supposed to look cool, it did....15 years ago. That's what is most surprising. Usually Mann is pretty up on things when it comes to his films -- period pieces, crime thrillers, biographies -- but this felt like a misfire considering that aspect of the film and its mildly successful attempt at timeliness.
So when you think of Mann movies, what comes to mind? For me, that's simple. When they work, we're talking bad-ass, renegade, freaking awesome, all that is man lead characters. We're talking Daniel Day Lewis' Hawkeye with a rifle in each hand running up a mountain. We're talking Pacino and De Niro mano-a-mano. We're talking James Caan in Thief, Tom Cruise in Collateral, Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx in Miami Vice. Mann does a roguish anti-hero like nobody's business so a pairing of him, his script and Thor...um, Chris Hemsworth seemed logical. Other than Hemsworth not being my first (or 18th) choice to play a hacker, he makes the best of it. He's cool. He can mumble a line with line. He can seductively stare at both men and women. And when it comes down to it, and everything hits the fan, he's calm, cool and collected. Oh, and because he's a hacker, he can figure out seemingly impossible things with ease.
Who knows why audiences do and don't see certain movies. I wonder some if the lack of a recognizable cast beyond Hemsworth had anything to do with it. Wang's Dawai character is interesting but underdeveloped, an up and coming security officer who risks it all to get the job done. Wei Tang plays his sister, Chen Lien, loyal to a fault...until she develops feelings for Hemsworth's Hathaway. Yeah, the script goes there unfortunately. Oh, no, doomed love! As for Hathaway's relative team (i.e.: the ones making sure he doesn't bolt), there's an underused Viola Davis and an underused Holt McCallany with Andy On joining the group as a like-minded hacker. Also look for John Ortiz, Ritchie Coster and Yorick van Wageningen in key supporting parts.
There's a certain look and feel and touch to a Mann movie. He was shooting in handheld, shaky cam in digital long before others thought to do so. That look and feel of the movie is definitely there with a story mostly based in a very humid-looking Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia. That Michael Mann style is there to burn. The set pieces are okay, but nothing too memorable with the exception of the finale at a crowded parade ground during a religious ceremony. Even then though, the finale disappoints because it could have packed quite a punch but instead goes for a far safer ending. Too bad.
So what's the biggest issue? It isn't the most action-packed movie. I'd say more than that it is even a tad slow to the point of being boring in a 133-minute running time. I did like it though in spite of its flaws, but just not as much as Mann's other previous ventures. A flawed recommendation.
Blackhat (2015): ** 1/2 /****