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Reviews » Theatrical Reviews » Blackhat
Blackhat
Universal // R // January 16, 2015
Review by Jeff Nelson | posted January 15, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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The technology that we have come to enjoy also makes a lot possible for those who use it for evil. We're all aware that hackers exist, as they try to gain access to the computers of companies and individuals in order to steal secret information. In 2014, news of the hacking of Sony Pictures spread across the globe, as we're once again reminded of the power that some of these individuals have behind a keyboard. A film that tells the story of a particular hacker told with Michael Mann in the director's chair sounds like it could be a fascinating idea. Working with such a morally complex individual could make for an intriguing look within the mind of such a person. Unfortunately, we're left with a superficial thriller that fails to excite.

Even after being locked away in prison, Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) hasn't let it affect him. When the Americans and the Chinese become partners to hunt a high-level cybercrime network, they soon realize that Hathaway is their only chance of finding the perpetrator. This operation proves to be much larger than they anticipated, as they must risk their lives in the attempt to put a stop to this criminal's master plan.

Despite the fact that Nicholas Hathaway must have done something pretty bad in order to get him placed in prison in the first place, director Michael Mann and writer Morgan Davis Foehl's intention is clearly set for audiences to have the ability to sympathize with the lead. His goal for exposing this cybercrime network is to receive his "get out of jail free card." It may be a selfish motive, but the filmmakers still want us rooting for him. Unfortunately, there's so little to Hathaway, and everything else for that matter, that there isn't much there to even connect with. Perhaps the biggest flaw with Foehl's screenplay is that there isn't anybody interesting enough to become emotionally invested in. Since there happens to be both a man and a woman involved in the case, there's an inevitable romance intertwined with it all that really doesn't work. The chemistry between the characters is nonexistent, and comes off as being quite laughable. It's brought about in such a nonchalant way that feels so unnatural and random, that the jarring change in tone comes across as ridiculous. It's from this particular point forward that we can't take any of it seriously.

Even if you put the romance aside, what should be the thrilling aspects of the film are equally as disappointing. There are only a few action sequences to speak of, and none of them capture even the slightest sense of urgency. As Hathaway and his crew continue to move closer to breaking the case, the audience never feels any danger. Rather than crafting a taut and immersive thriller, viewers are placed in a world where the disappointing attempt to surprise occasionally makes itself known. Otherwise, Blackhat never has us at the edge of our seats. The majority of its two hour and fifteen minute running time is actually rather dull. This is a story that could have easily been told in one hour and forty minutes or so. By around half way through the duration, you'll certainly begin to feel it wearing on you. Blackhat outstays its welcome, and then continues on. It doesn't come close to picking up the pace until the final ten minutes, which is so ridiculous, that audiences may actually have some fun with it. The finale makes so little sense, but that's the charm of it all. You're still guaranteed to be left laughing and enjoying yourself.

Blackhat seems to be in a weird type of limbo, where it isn't entirely sure what direction to move in next. One moment it's dead serious, and the next it's beyond silly. There's absolutely no way that the latter is accidental. However, it needed to pick one, and stick with it. If Mann and Foehl wanted this to be a serious thriller, then the film has a dire need for characters that we can legitimately connect with on some level. At the very least, the action sequences must be actually thrilling. Now, if the intention isn't for Blackhat to be taken seriously, then it needs to have a consistent tone that indicates this. Otherwise, the audience is presented with a clash in tones that makes for a chaotic mess of different flavors. Since director Michael Mann and writer Morgan Davis Foehl don't entirely pursue either direction, the film suffers. It's nearly impossible to be captivated by its characters and sense of storytelling. It doesn't truly embrace how ridiculous everything is until the third act, which is a long time to wait for a film to become what it should have already been.

Since this is a feature directed by Michael Mann, a few famous names wanted in on the project. Chris Hemsworth is included in the role of Nicholas Hathaway. Unfortunately, not even Hemsworth's abs can save this one. He's seriously miscast here, as he's caught somewhere in between being a hacker and an action hero, which just doesn't work on screen. Perhaps somewhere deep down, we want to see Hathaway succeed just because the man we know as Thor is in trouble. Viola Davis occasionally brightens things up in the role of Carol Barrett, who is working side-by-side with Hathaway to solve this case. The performance isn't anything special for Davis, but she clearly has some fun with it at certain points. This especially shows during scenes in which she must strike negotiations. Wei Tang is truly awful as Lien Chen. Nothing about her performance comes through. Even her chemistry with Hemsworth is nonexistent.

Director Michael Mann isn't new to being behind the camera. In fact, he has been behind several exceptional motion pictures. However, Blackhat is visually lazy. It employs many of the generic tricks in order to generate excitement within audiences. Even the score heavily undermines the characters, as it blares over dialogue during pivotal moments of the film. Fortunately, those who are interested in the action sequences will be glad to know that there aren't many quick cuts to report. When there are actual fights to show, the film can become quite brutal. Suddenly, it feels as if another movie with Chris Hemsworth has entered the screen. While this is only temporary, these scenes have been captured rather well. The audio recording is just as impressive, as this is sure to make a wonderful sounding Blu-ray when it hits home video. Gunshots pack a punch, the score has its moments where it shines, and explosions rattled the room. Now, if only the rest of the film was as inspired as the audio is.

There isn't anything smart about Michael Mann's Blackhat. This largely falls back on the screenplay, as it struggles to find an identity. Is this supposed to be a dark thriller, or a ridiculously over-the-top action thriller? We may never really know what the intentions were, but we're left with a film that clashes with itself. It tries to be a little bit of everything, but doesn't succeed at any of them. The feature outstays its welcome, as it doesn't become entertaining until the final act, which is just too long of a wait for such a small payoff. Blackhat doesn't have a single line of smart code in its entire body. Skip it.

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