Release date: 20 February 2015
Running time: 133 min
Director: Michael Mann
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Wei Tang, Leehom Wang, Viola Davis
Arriving only a couple of months after the notorious Sony hacking scandal, Michael Mann has returned from a 5 year absence to once again prove he has his finger on the pulse with cyber-thriller Blackhat. Gone are the fun but laughable days of The Net and Hackers, and that time when Hugh Jackman hacked into the CIA with a gun pointed at his head whilst being aggressively fellated in Swordfish. All this farcical window dressing was to distract us from the real problem: that hacking is a thoroughly dull and uncinematic pursuit. Bearing this in mind, can Mann produce a grounded, gritty film about hacking whilst delivering on both plot and drama? The answer is not really, no.
The fetishised technology on display in the days of yore – all sleek sophistication and hundreds of needless monitors- has been abandoned here; instead we see its microscopic inner workings, the pulsing lights of electric activity are all that light up the intense greyness and the dust. There is nothing remotely colourful or glamorous here, which sets the tone for the next 120 or so minutes. Chris Hemsworth’s jailed computer-whiz Hathaway is freed temporarily from prison to assist in tracing a hacker who utilised some of his old techniques to blow up a factory in China. On the way towards our conclusion we experience some inter-continental tension between American and Chinese governments, a half-hearted romance and a lot of fast touch typing.
Michael Mann has proven himself to be a master of action, but is often criticised for his cold and distant directorial style. This has never been more true than in Blackhat, which is so chilly you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d slipped into an ice bath. From the dull, personality vacuums that are supposedly our main protagonists, to the blue and grey digital video cinematography, it’s incredibly difficult to find anything to engage with. The script is purely functional, any wit and tension stripped to leave the barest dialogue peppered with occasional impenetrable hacker jargon. Viola Davis deserves a mention for bringing any kind of charm to her role, which is mostly communicated by occasionally raising her voice and making a sarcastic comment.
For such a topical and potentially engrossing subject, it’s a shame that Blackhat is so unrelentingly lifeless. Even the action scenes, which are shot with a bit more of Mann’s trademark imagination and flair, feel like they are present solely to jolt you awake after endless minutes of completely unstimulating drama. This is far from Mann’s best work, and may quite possibly be his most lacklustre effort yet. That’s not to say it is completely incompetent, as it is capably assembled, but the complete lack of any excitement is almost criminal. One day there will be a fascinating hacking thriller which doesn’t feature a Nine Inch Nails loving long-haired cliché living in his mother’s basement, but we’re not quite there yet.