BLACKHAT review by Ronnie Malik – Michael Mann makes Chris Hemsworth a hacker hero

BLACKHAT review by Ronnie Malik – Michael Mann makes Chris Hemsworth a hacker hero


Director: Michael Mann

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Wei Tang, William Mapother, John Ortiz, Holt McCallany, Leehom Wang, Ritchie Coster, Youriek van Wageningen, Jason Butler Harner, Spencer Garrett

Rating: C-

An explosion at a nuclear plant in China and a run on the soybean futures that creates a disaster in international financial markets set the tone for Blackhat, a film tapping into the fears of the ultimate computer hacker nightmare. There is a chase across the globe to find out who is behind the digital attacks and what can be done to stop the person or parties responsible before another strike causes more calamities around the world. Will this story tap into our cyberspace insecurities about the safety of information on the web or will it only make us go back to what we were doing online oblivious to possibilities of computer hacking?

Chinese and American officials join forces to find the computer genius responsible for causing two major disasters. Carol Barrett (Viola Davis), a savvy FBI agent, pairs up with Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang), her Chinese counterpart, to find the culprit hiding behind the computer. Chen insists on getting help from Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth), a computer hacker currently surviving a prison sentence. To make the task force even stronger, Chen brings in his sister Lien Chen (Wei Tang), a brilliant network engineer that is able to decipher the most complex of puzzles.

The first part of the movie is spent on camera shots swooping down into phone lines, computer terminals, and microchips just to make absolutely sure that we understand that something on the information highway is about to trigger a big catastrophe. Then once disaster strikes we get to spend a lot of time watching actors in front of computer screens trying to solve the mystery of which technology architect is behind the hacking scheme that is having a ripple effect around the globe. A lot of time is spent on mumbo jumbo dialog that does little to explain the conspiracy theories. There is nothing exciting about looking at people looking at computers or being bombarded by images of computer hardware. The formula to help us make sense of digital technology in this movie only succeeds to confuse the hell out of anyone watching.

Finally, an hour into the proceedings, things start speeding up with colorful scenes of China, Malaysia, and Indonesia that include gun battles and hand-to-hand combat. The fight scenes that should have made our lead character, Nicholas Hathaway, looking like a superhero, look more like someone who has gone completely nuts. The frenzy at which he attacks the villains is on the verge of laughable. It is never explained how Hathaway, a former MIT student, learned how to move at the speed of light while stabbing his advisories to death. We just have to assume that prison was a different learning ground for the film’s hero. Then we have Nicholas and love interest Lien standing at ground zero in Malaysia figuring out what the mastermind hacker’s next move will be with the use of a laptop. This scene does not make any sense when it is obvious that this could have been done right from a desk in a nice hotel or apartment. Not to mention that no one sees them standing out in the open on private property that has a manufacturing plant on it. Where were all the employees responsible for running the plant? Were they on vacation or was it the weekend?

Blackhat is a sloppy attempt at creating a cyberspace mystery thriller. The slow beginning and the staggered action sequences make the pacing of the film very choppy and uneven. Chris Hemsworth does carry off the girt of his character but is never convincing as a computer genius. Despite the relatively strong supporting cast, this film still comes off as absurd and totally unbelievable. Just about every cliché from past computer hacking films is thrown into the story, leaving nothing new for moviegoers. The filmmakers could have easily pulled the loose ends together to create a storyline with mystery and intrigue, but instead gave everything away long before the movie was over. What we have here is a film that short circuited and ultimately crashed. Moviegoers will be better off spending their time surfing the internet and leaving hacking conspiracy theories to the paranoid few that believe we are all at risk.

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