“This isn't about money. This isn't about politics. I can target anyone, anything, anywhere.”
Since his 2004 film, Collateral, Michael Mann has shot his movies almost entirely digitally, but Blackhat is the first time he has done so in its entirety. Since he made the switch from 35mm I’d say Collateral has been his best film, although I was a fan of Public Enemies as well. Miami Vice and Blackhat have been somewhat of a disappointment, despite the fact that Mann continues to direct some great action scenes. Sometimes his films are more stylish than anything else. That is the case with Blackhat, which has a unique style, but the plot didn’t do anything for me and neither did the characters. There are a couple of intense action scenes scattered throughout the 130 minute runtime, but by the time they arrive I had no sympathy for the characters and I felt disengaged with the story. There are many films in which you don’t have to know much about the subject matter to enjoy the film (take for instance Moneyball, a baseball film that didn’t rely on your knowledge or enjoyment of the sport), but Blackhat is a film with a lot of tech jargon centering around hackers and I felt lost at times. Because of that, there were moments I didn’t quite get how they got from point A to point B, but considering this is a film that has divided audiences I would say you have to be interested in the subject matter to enjoy this movie. I simply wasn’t engaged with the premise and I felt there was no character development whatsoever. They were simply pursuing a cyber criminal across the globe in a rather rapid pace without ever stopping to build on who these people were.
Blackhat opens with an explosion at a Chinese factory which was clearly triggered by a cyber criminal through computer malware (the camera takes us through the network and computer connections and so on). Authorities fear this is a terrorist attack so the Chinese and American government decide to work together to discover who is responsible. Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang) is the expert who is in charge of the case for the Chinese and he is partnered with CIA and FBI agents, Carol Barrett (Viola David) and Mark Jessup (Holt McCallany). Chen discovers that part of the computer code used in the RAT was actually designed by him and his college roommate, Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) several years ago. Nick however is currently serving a 15 year prison sentence for having hacked into several banks, so Chen convinces the American authorities to make a deal with him to help them out with the case. Nick and Dawai are reunited, and together they try to solve the case while this dangerous criminal continues to reek havoc across the globe. They’re always one step behind this mysterious hacker whose intentions are unknown to them and the closer they get the more dangerous things turn out to be for the agents.
Mann delivers some great action scenes which include a gripping chase and an intense gunfight sequence, but for the most part the film is dull and boring as we follow these agents trying to figure out what the criminal’s intentions truly are. I didn’t care for the hacker sequences and didn’t understand much of the jargon used. There is also a romantic relationship between Hemsworth’s character and Dawai’s sister, Lien (Wei Tang), that sort of comes out of nowhere and never feels believable. The characters are never developed and it all centers on this persecution around the globe which allows Mann to shoot some gorgeous scenes, but it doesn’t do much for the story. The handheld camera can become distracting at times, but it also shows the immediacy of the situation. Mann makes his film as real and authentic as possible, but unfortunately he forgets to deliver life to his characters and that is what left me disengaged. As much as I like Mann as a director, this didn’t work for me.