‘Blackhat’ (2015) Movie Review

Blackhat movie review
Chris Hemsworth in Blackhat

Photo: Universal Pictures

Blackhat is awful. As a director, Michael Mann‘s visual flair, intimate camerawork and explicit violence is all here, but in terms of the film he’s delivered I’m not sure it could be any less entertaining or narratively flat. To call it dull wouldn’t be a stretch and in fact might be an understatement as the opening minutes deliver not one, but two sequences where we spend time watching (yes, watching) the camera navigate the inner-workings of a computer system as they are hacked and a not-so-ominous figure on the other end hits “Enter”. Oh no! Don’t hit ENTER!!!! What you have to look forward to is plenty of typing, noisy computer screens and erratic and nonsensical behavior, all leading up to a conclusion that is so unsatisfying it makes the tedious wait getting there all the worse.

As a nuclear explosion in China clumsily sets off the events that will kick start the rest of the film’s narrative we’re introduced to a series of players we’ll follow through the rest of the film, none of which are necessarily important and I honestly don’t remember any of their names. There’s Viola Davis playing a member of the U.S. Department of Justice, Leehom Wang playing a Chinese defense officer alongside his sister played by Wei Tang, who seems to know something about what’s going on to the point she must be a network engineer or something along those lines.

Then there’s Hathaway played by Chris Hemsworth. Yes, I remember his last name and while I could look up his first name, as well as the names of all those other characters, I just don’t care. I know I heard a character in the movie shout “Mark” at one point so that might be Hathaway’s first name, but more importantly he’s a cyber criminal, referred to as a “blackhat” hacker, and he’s friends with Leehom Wang’s character and Wei Tang’s character is jonesing for him before she ever even meets him… I wonder what will happen there, perhaps an abrupt, out of nowhere, sexual interlude? Nah, Michael Mann isn’t some second rate, hack director that would do something like tha– nevermind.

So this team of misfits is on the tale of whomever it is that caused the meltdown in China and later manipulated the stock market sending millions of dollars into three different back accounts. Hathaway is given a “get out of jail free” card if he can help find the bad guy and outside of an ankle bracelet, he’s pretty much allowed to do whatever he wants and man, for a hacker this guy is not only fit, but he can beat up a gang of about six as if he was Jason Bourne. Then there’s the matter of Hemsworth’s American accent, which, for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what he was going for and I don’t want to insult any one part of the country trying to figure it out.

Complete with lines like “I’m a fugitive now!” causing my audience to howl with laughter, Blackhat also sports a horrible sound mix, sometimes with the dialogue dropping out almost completely and at other times becoming much louder not to mention moments where the dialogue didn’t even match with what characters were saying as if it was hastily dubbed in post. At first I thought it was just my theater until I noticed others complaining about similar issues at other screenings. Oh, and let’s not forget the kid that can walk on his hands or that time Hathaway bought a hammer or when he hid a screwdriver up his sleeve using rubber bands, a scene that’s unintentionally funnier than the unintentionally funny “fugitive” line.

Blackhat plays like a joke. It’s a movie that’s clearly hoping for realism and you can tell a real director is behind the camera, but my god, Morgan Davis Foehl‘s screenplay is a complete and utter failure. The entire romance between Hemsworth and Tang’s characters should have been cut from the start and the character motivations need to be far more fleshed out and massaged before this story ever should have made it in front of cameras. To think Mann asked for a screenwriting credit (which he was eventually denied by the WGA) after working on Foehl’s spec tells me perhaps most of the blame should land on his shoulders and his shoulders alone. It’s a shame, because this is by far the worst movie Mann has ever made from start to finish.

I’m not sure if there is any forgiving the most horrendous aspects of this film including the utterly stupid “climactic” scene or the fact a SWAT raid in China is accompanied by a cyber criminal or the time the Department of Justice agent allows said criminal to hack the NSA or, for that matter, how he hacks the NSA. Don’t open your attachments people! To that point, the moment a USB stick is used to give Hathaway access to a network of bank computers is just as laughable as the rest of this awful mess.

Where is the director that made Heat, The Insider and Collateral? If you’re going to use the fact Mann made those films in your marketing you damn well better have a film that lives up to those previous successes. I’m not sure what Mann was going for here, because a tight narrative definitely wasn’t part of the plan, at least not over signature visuals or his, admittedly, strong work with realism when it comes to violence and gunfights. But any visual delights are inconsequential if what you’re showing us doesn’t work and Blackhat is simply a film that never should have been made, and the fact Universal dumped it at the beginning of the year with the rest of the trash is no surprise.


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