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By Brad McHargue, Film Critic
Michael Mann’s cyber-thriller "Blackhat" tries desperately to show the otherwise dull activity of hacking into something more than …
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By Brad McHargue, Film Critic
Michael Mann’s cyber-thriller "Blackhat" tries desperately to show the otherwise dull activity of hacking into something more than a pale programmer sitting alone in a basement, coffee and Mountain Dew coursing through his veins and typing out endless lines of code.
As a result, the script, which Mann co-wrote with Morgan Davis Foehl, is comprised less of actual hacking than it is a generic hunk jetting around the globe while occasionally typing a few lines into a computer. However. unlike the 1995 cyberpunk thriller "Hackers," we’re not given the benefit of garish clothing, rollerblades, and underground hacker clubs.
In this film, Chris Hemsworth stars as Nicholas Hathaway, a buffer-than-thou blackhat hacker in the midst of a lengthy stay in prison who is furloughed to help the American and Chinese governments seek out another hacker using code he co-created to take down a nuclear power plants and cause soy futures to shoot through the roof. Thrilling!
The man responsible for his release is Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang), a Chinese general who co-wrote the offending code with him while roommates at MIT. Despite a few hiccups along the way and Hathaway leveraging the furlough offer into a hopeful commuted sentence, he’s joined by Carol Barrett (Viola Davis), a tough-as-nails FBI agent with an axe to grind; U.S. Marshal Mark Jessup (Holt McCallany); and Dawai’s sister Lien (Wei Tang), a security expert in her own right and the object of Hathaway’s affection. Together they all traipse around the globe engaging in fisticuffs and gunfights in underground tunnels with Lebanese terrorists while occasionally furthering the plot with intermittent bits of hacking.
Hathaway himself is the antithesis of the image of hacker — he's a chiseled ex-con who spouts tired one-liners about working the body and mind, complete with a terrible accent that comes and goes at random. Hemsworth is a solid actor with charisma to boot, but here he fumbles through the dim script, forcing out stale dialogue with a chest that has aversion to being covered when hunched over a laptop. When out in the field, as it were, he’s an expert in hand-to-hand combat, as comfortable with a gun as he is a sharpened screwdriver cleverly hidden and affixed to his arm — because of course he is.
The rest of the cast is underutilized, appearing randomly to lend a clever quip or explain some irrelevant motive before disappearing in a flurry of gunfire and a second act that all but completely abandons the dual-U.S/Chinese role in stopping the hacker from fulfilling his nefarious plan. The only one who rides out the wave of mediocrity is Lien, a love interest that causes a brief, barely perceptible rift between Hathaway and Dawai before it’s accepted and forgotten. The film is bloated as it is, its 135-minute runtime overflowing with ostentatious CGI displays of hacking from within the computer as code is sent from one end to the other with catastrophic results.
Admittedly, the hacking is the one area Mann mostly gets right, however truncated it may be for the sake of making a sexy thriller. Lines of code are shown in detail on tiny computer screens, and while most of it is relegated to him executing simple commands or explaining just how complicated the code is, it at least gives off the impression of being grounded in reality. These moments are fleeting, occurring solely to link the action scenes because there has to be “hacking” in a movie that is ostensibly about hacking ... right?
The foot chases and gun battles comprise the bulk of the film, yet are so hampered by poor cinematography, janky editing, and myriad audio issues. Following the screening I appealed to a number of fellow critics, all of which agreed that there were serious issues with the film’s audio. Tack on a shot of a destroyed Chinese nuclear power plant with the words “STOCK FOOTAGE” emblazoned across the middle, and it almost feels like Mann cared less about a quality product than anyone else involved.
But technical glitches notwithstanding, "Blackhat" is just an interminable bore, a generic cat-and-mouse thriller with a weak script that is prime fodder for the theatrical dumping ground that is January.
"Blackhat" is rated R. Running time: Two hours, 13 minutes. One and a half stars out of five.
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