After a five year absence, Michael Mann - Hollywood’s artistic master of slick arty coolness - is back. Let’s just clear up a few things first: One – Blackhat has been critically slammed in the US (5.4 IMDb rating!). Two – Blackhat was poorly mis-marketed by Universal (the trailers promised a high-octane action thriller of sorts). And three – I’m a massive Michael Mann fan so I will probably be biased
Mann’s films are multi-layered character studies. He creates rich, complex storylines. His cool cinematic style oozes from each frame. The genius of Mann’s movies are how they immerse the audience head-first into the deep end right from the get-go. Eschewing conventional expositional set-up, his films usually start with little explanation as to what the heck is going on, and you just accept the fact that you’re entering the lives of different characters at the point the film has chosen to. And Blackhat is no different. Those who are more adapted to the movies of Michael Bay or Paul W. Anderson should leave the cinema now, and please remember to pick up your brain on the way out!
We’re first introduced to a computer hacker (Chris Hemsworth) who looks less like a computer nerd and more like.. well, like Thor to be honest! He’s furloughed from prison to help the FBI and an elite Chinese cybercrime team to track down a mysterious online cyber-terrorist who has been uploading viruses to stock exchanges and nuclear power plants (and probably Sony Pictures earlier this year!). Sounds like someone from LulzSec has gone rogue!
So who or what exactly is a ‘Blackhat’ then? ‘Blackhat’ is computer nerd jargon for a hacker who cracks into secure networks to destroy, modify or steal data. So this is a film about computer hacking then, I hear you cry. How cinematic can that be exactly? A load of scenes of people looking at computer screens while frantically typing? Hardly riveting stuff. In the past, Hollywood has done its best to try and sex-up the world of computers and hacking to the point of being completely ridiculous and bearing no resemblance to actual computer use – just go and watch laughable Sandra Bullock film The Net for a prime example. But to Mann’s credit, he keeps things as realistic as possible. There are no laughing skulls, no creeping progress bars, and definitely no Wayne Knight wagging his finger and declaring “ah-ah-ah, you didn’t say the magic word.”
What we do get are characters pouring over code scripts and syntax like forensic investigators. We are treated to Fincher-esque ‘bytes-eye-views’ of cables being plugged into USB sockets and circuits igniting with glowing data. We see characters typing from beneath the surface of their keyboard. We’re presented with exotic-sounding lingo with little or no explanation – RATs (Remote Access Trojans), IP (Internet Protocol) addresses, Edge Routers, Keystroke loggers. And slowly you find yourself becoming totally immersed in this high-tech world. The cinematography is typical Michael Mann – sleek, lots of night time exterior locations, and of course his now trademark use of High-Def video. And Blackhat is all the better for it. The night time locations of Hong Kong and Jakarta really pop out in their neon-lit glory.
nd Mann doesn’t skimp on the action either. We are treated to not one, but two rather impressive Heat-style shootouts. But Blackhat does have its fair share of faults unfortunately. While the film does a good job to demonstrate that successful hacking usually relies on human error, are we really expected to believe that a top level NSA analyst will simply run a dodgy email attachment without running Norton first? And when the film’s ‘Blackhat’ villain mastermind is unveiled, I was expecting someone with a little more presence than just some bloke who looks like Alan from the Hangover trilogy. And without giving too much away, I was really confused towards the end. I was left wondering why the villain even bothered going through all the palava of hacking into a stock exchange and uploading a RAT to a nuclear power plant as a ‘dummy run’ to control some pumps – apparently it’s so easy to just simply drive up to the place in question and gain access via an unlocked hatch as Thor does! And then the climatic showdown is a mystery in itself, and unfortunately lowered my overall rating of the film. In this movie’s view of reality, Indonesian people apparently have no reaction to guns being waved around in public or people getting stabbed in the head!
All those niggles aside, Blackhat is extremely well executed (‘natch!) and an engaging watch. Just a shame that it has been relegated to direct-to-DVD hell in some countries as a result of its poor performance. Damn you marketing department!
Overall Blackhat is a solid effort, it doesn’t quite offer the same meaty, multi-layered substance of Heat or even come close to Miami Vice for that matter, but still remains a stylish and intellectual alternative to anything currently showing at the multiplex (or being downloaded!) right now.