As we’ve seen since the birth of the computer, and particularly since the arrival of the internet, creating tension in a movie with someone staring at a screen is one tough task. That is just one of the problems with the latest film, Blackhat, from one of our favorite directors -- Michael Mann.
The Blackhat trailer teases the tip of the iceberg. Chris Hemsworth is Hathaway. He’s serving time in a maximum security prison for hacking and when the world appears to be under attack from a master hacker, who better to help the government track this person down and stop them?
There was a financial market attacked. There was a power plant in Asia attacked and scores died. The clock is ticking and no one knows who or what will be next. The FBI (led by Viola Davis’ Agent Barrett) oversees Hathaway’s conditional release so they can cross the globe and find this Blackhat hacker before he kills or profits at other people’s financial losses again.
Mann and his screenwriter Morgan Davis Foehl have worked on this script for years. And the subject matter could not be timelier with the news of the hack at Sony. Yet, we still have a hard time finding the cinematic equivalent of a page turner at the sight of someone typing at a keyboard. Sure, there are car chases and foot chases, but when these things all come to a head -- it’s someone working on a computer in a race against time.
The filmmaker that gave us pot boilers like Manhunter, Collateral and Heat has a bit of a misfire with Blackhat and that pains us to no end. There still is something special about a Mann movie that is seen in elements of his latest. His use of colors is brilliant, although we think some of that gets lost with his use of digital cameras. And the man also knows how to use music along with his imagery that paints a picture that is uniquely Mann’s.
Unfortunately, our Blackhat review reports, that’s not quite enough to add up to something as incendiary as this film should be.
Look, Mann still knows how to capture on-location filming better than many working today. The helmer still knows how to manufacture tension (when not at a computer, which makes it complicated for a hacking movie). And no one makes a city look better, day or especially night, than Michael Mann. If those are all things you appreciate as well, then Blackhat is one satisfying venture. And that was enough for us on many levels.
But, the issue is that Mann has set a bar so high with his previous work, we expect to be utterly blown away. He has some of the most riveting crime dramas of the last 30 years. With his move into cyber crime, he may have stretched his lens into an arena that even the greatest filmmaker in the world could not make tense.
There are several things that work for the film and they involve China. The two Chinese actors who play pivotal roles, Wei Tang and Leehom Wang, are top notch. And the other element we truly adored about Blackhat is the fact that the Chinese are not our adversary. The U.S. government works hand-in-hand with them in trying to stop this hacker. In a time where Hollywood seems all too willing to have the Chinese be our go-to villains, it’s a treat to see them wearing the white hats in Blackhat.
Check out one of Mann's great works and watch Heat online.