In “The Insider”, Michael Mann directed a movie about a corporate whistle blower and turned it into a nerve-wracking, intense thriller. If he was able to pull that off, the red hot, timely cybercrime premise of “Blackhat” should be right in Mann’s wheelhouse.
Sadly, this is not just a massive strikeout, it’s like Mann took three pitches and was caught looking. It’s a slow moving, preposterous, overlong disaster. Even Mann’s technical prowess is lacking in all 133 minutes of characters hunched over computers, babbling on and on about code, exotic locales, and half-hearted political strife.
The chain of ridiculous events are set off when a Chinese nuclear reactor’s computer system is attacked and sets China on the verge of a nuclear meltdown. Super smart MIT grad and army captain Chen (Leehorn Wang) head up the Chinese government’s investigation and despite this being an extremely tight, covert operation, he is inexplicably allowed to have his civilian sister, Lien (Wei Tang), investigate the hacker (a.k.a. Blackhat) that is responsible for the attack.
Chen recognizes the code that was used to hack the reactor’s system and the next thing you know, he and his sister are on a plane to the United States to meet with the FBI to coordinate their pursuit of this criminal. He begins working with Agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis), but his real motive for working with the FBI lies elsewhere.
See, Chen was roommates at MIT with Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) and Chen knows that Nick is the best person on Earth to enlist to crack the case. The big problem here is that Nick is in prison for a cybercrime of his own, serving fourteen years for robbing several banks.
No problem. Agent Barrett strikes up a quick deal with the Department of Justice and the next thing you know, Nick is in designer clothes, cool shades, and hopping on a plane to China. It’s okay because this beefed up, super genius has an ankle monitor and trusty US Marshall Jessup (Holt McCallany) guarding his every move.
From there, “Blackhat” consists of scenes that either feature Nick and the gang huddled over a computer or physical confrontations involving guns, knives, even a broken beer bottle. While belief suspension works regarding Nick’s chiseled from stone look (what else is there to do in prison but work out?), the fact that he seems to be a firearms expert or able to kill a guy with a table chair at a restaurant is ridiculous.
Even Mann’s patented action sequences are failed. The entire movie, shot digitally, looks like a muddy mess. The camera jerks around and, at times, is so blurry that it may as well have been shot with an iPhone. It’s almost difficult to believe that you’re watching something directed by the same human being as the jaw-dropping bank robbery scene in “Heat”.
While the majority of the story is decent enough to keep you interested, the “Blackhat” nail in the coffin is the budding relationship between Nick and Lien. It’s completely forced and hackneyed, only tossed in there as an excuse to see two attractive human beings touch each other.
It doesn’t help that is the most poorly acted movie that Michael Mann has every made. Only Viola Davis escapes unscathed, as she provides some sass and charm that goes a long way. “Blackhat” may have been better off if she, a professionally trained FBI agent, were the real hero of the tale.
Instead, “Blackhat” chooses to stick with the cliched antihero and Hemsworth mumbles his way through one of the biggest casting misfires in recent movie history. Never mind the fact that this six foot plus, blond headed stud is playing secret super spy while walking around southeast Asia, where he would stick out like the sorest of sore thumbs. It would take approximately ten seconds for any bad guy to spot him on the street and it’s impossible for an audience to ignore.
Hemsworth can act and lead a movie, even without swinging around a magical hammer. He proved that with the tragically unseen “Rush”, but this is a serious mistake in the casting department. Hemsworth’s lack of charism or screen presence seems to say, “What am I doing portraying a computer hacker?”, as if he’s well aware that is does not compute.
Even if the wretched romance plot line was removed, “Blackhat” is average at best, but average and Michael Mann should not be colliding in a sentence. For a master class director, this is a shocking disappointment and letdown. Here’s hoping that Mann gets back in the director’s chair sooner rather than later in an effort to make up for this disaster.