Michael Mann has been one of the most trust worthy directors around for about three decades now. In fact, many would actually consider Mann to be one of the greatest directors working today. I certainly think ‘Heat’ and ‘The Insider’ are some of the best films ever made. Yet, his last four movies have veered in a new direction that I’m not sure I like. The aesthetic of his camerawork has gone the way of a digital disaster that is unlike any other we have seen from a major auteur. Luckily, that didn’t compromise his previous films, but it certainly hinders his newest.
‘Blackhat’ is a dark, fuzzy, ugly, and drab film. A movie that shows sparks of beauty or excitement, but mostly leaves the audiences staring into thin air (or at people pressing on keyboards). The visual style goes from highly focused to grainy fuzz so many times that you may want to get your eyes checked. Especially, in the action sequences. Action scenes in this more are either shaking so much that you hardly see them or framed so fast that it looks like your watching a cleaned up version of old home videos.
The other elements don’t fair much better. The story is interesting enough, but one dimensional characters, poor dialogue, and laughable romance ruin that. The sound work seems to go from too soft to super loud in many individual sequences. Dialogue is often inaudible even without any music. The musical score seems to randomly drop in and out at odd times. Not to mention the fact that the score goes from digital to phony emotional symphony in often strange ways.
Bottom line being that just about every aspect of the film fails in some way. Sometimes it’s horrible, but most of the time is just kind of boring. Still, the thing that makes it the most disappointing is that there are glimpses of brilliance from the beginning that just seem to fade away and then poke their head back up periodically. It’s like Michael Mann has bought into the bullshit notion that everything he touches is whine and that he can make no mistake. Well, this whole thing is mostly a mistake.
The plot here opens very interestingly. The first sequence follows the inner workings of a computer system and uses visual effects to turn a simple key stroke into a battlefield. Then we get into all the real people. Viola Davis plays a decidedly unmotivated American government agent. Leehom Wang plays an equally drab Chinese government agent. Wei Tang plays his tag along sister for needed romantic entanglement reasons. Then we have Chris Hemsworth as hacker Nicholas Hathaway. I like Hemsworth a lot, but he can’t do anything with the grim and dull Hathaway (badly in need of a personality).
In the “World Wide Web” of a plot we get hacker Hathaway using his tricks to stop another hacker (we don’t see until the end) from doing something (we don’t know until the end). This vague plot could be interesting with the right dialogue, tighter editing, shots that are clear, and a more condense plot line. However, Mann wants to take his sweet time. The only notable bit of emotion is a preposterous and completely unnecessary romance that just seems to come out of nowhere. I mean, Hemsworth’s a good looking guy, but there has to be some chemistry.
You combine that terrible romance with all the sequences of people staring at things and you have the recipe for a 135 minute movie that could have easily brushed by a half hour faster. So, it’s safe to say that I believe sitting through this movie for over two hours is a waste of your time. Which is really a sad thing. I’ve never given a Michael Mann movie a bad review and I didn’t want to start now. This marks the first big disappointment of 2015 for me. I hope there aren’t many more.