Release Date: January 16th, 2015 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Michael Mann Actors: Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Wei Tang, Holt McCallany, Leehom Wang, John Ortiz, Sara Finley
espite the title and tech-heavy premise of super-intelligent computer hacking espionage, “Blackhat” leaves so many holes in its characters, their motives, and the cyber warfare itself that it routinely borders on utter incoherence. Tiresome CG visualization of data transferring between computers twinkles repetitively; music swells while the camera focuses on feeble button keystrokes and scrolling code; and abundant programming jargon batters the ears with little explanation of the terms. These are mere opening sequences, yet they foreshadow the underwhelming and under-informing aspects that follow. Though these elements fail to captivate, the action sequences do hit hard and maintain suspense. The reasons for the characters to engage in slow-motion gunfights may be severely lacking, but it doesn’t take any bookish knowledge to enjoy splashy moments of striking violence.
When a nuclear reactor in China is breached, government official Dawai Chen (Leehom Wang) is tasked with tracking down the blackhat hacker responsible for the heinous act. Liaising with FBI agents Carol Barrett (Viola Davis) and Henry Pollack (John Ortiz) in the U.S. after a plant located there fended off a similar attack, Chen realizes he will need the help of expert hacker Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) – a convicted cyber criminal currently in prison. Granted a temporary release in order to aid the feds, Hathaway must use his valuable skills to trace the target’s location and lead the team across the globe in a desperate chase to catch the terrorist before he strikes again.
Every year there’s a film that features a scene (or two) so intense, so exciting, and so expertly choreographed that it demands a far better movie to encircle it. In “Blackhat,” a picture riddled with contrivances, inconsistencies, and more machinegun showdowns than actual hacking, U.S. Marshal Jessup (Holt McCallany) and FBI Agent Barrett are superior to the entirety of the movie. Not only are they amusing in their realism and wit, they usher in that great moment of unexpectedness and genuine surprise, briefly elevating “Blackhat” to something more monumental than the hodgepodge of poorly conceived ideas that fuel the plot.
As the camera pans over a motherboard, as if an endless, mechanical alien landscape, it alludes to the microscopic yet substantial enemy of overdependence in technology – and the foreignness with which most people approach computer coding. Unfortunately, director Michael Mann feels the need to duplicate the gimmick more than once. Since audiences aren’t likely to be familiar with hacker lingo (like the moderately popular terms of RAT, payload, proxy server, architect, 512-bit key, IP addresses, and even blackhat for that matter), it makes sense that visuals and layman explanations will permeate the premise. But the script doesn’t just dumb things down for universal appeal – it also has the various scenarios completely ignore logic. Hathaway is frequently unsupervised, despite being a furloughed prisoner; although his schooling and rap sheet are mentioned, Hathaway’s stunning proficiency with hand-to-hand combat and firearms is never even hinted at; Lien (Wei Tang), Chen’s sister, falls madly in love with a man she’s only known for a couple of days; programmers and coders are apparently authorized for SWAT-like storming duties; and police are always absent from major shootouts on busy streets.
The story, written by Morgan Davis Foehl in his writing debut, shares so much in common with “The Rock” that it’s more of an intentional filching than a 21st century update. And the addition of a love story is incredibly intrusive, especially as it’s founded on generic fantasy. In its favor, the tone and mood of “Blackhat” stay relatively consistent, even if the actions are absurd (the ending makes absolutely no sense), while many of the supporting roles (save for the main villain) are sharper than the leads. But even a couple of perfect sequences in a project riddled with errors can’t upgrade the whole production into the realm of competent thrillers.
– The Massie Twins