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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Blackhat (Blu-ray)
Blackhat (Blu-ray)
Universal // R // May 12, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by William Harrison | posted May 17, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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THE FILM:

Click an image to view Blu-ray screenshot with 1080p resolution.

Michael Mann is the master of cool. His recent films have not hit the dramatic peaks of Heat or The Insider but are distinctly moody, with artful, sometimes challenging photography, and intricate production design. His latest, Blackhat, about cyber terrorism and its collateral damage, is certainly topical. Shot across the globe and packed with Mann's signature digital photography, Blackhat is an intricate chase across continents on the heels of a man crippling economies with a few keystrokes. Pacing and an aloof narrative are its biggest problems, but I still found the film an absorbing ride. Chris Hemsworth is less impressive than co-stars Leehom Wang and Wei Tang, and Mann should have cut some of the sluggish middle to improve the pacing.

The cold open begins at a Hong Kong nuclear plant, where lines of code run through circuits and wires, frying the cooling fans and triggering a meltdown. Later, the Mercantile Trade Exchange in Chicago gets hacked, which causes an artificial inflation in soybean futures. Chinese military officer Capt. Chen Dawai (Wang) and his sister, Chen Lien (Tang), work with FBI agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis) to track the culprit. Dawai convinces Barrett to furlough imprisoned hacker Nicholas Hathaway (Hemsworth) when he discovers the attacker is using a code Hathaway originally wrote. Hathaway walks a line between cooperating with the government and falling back into his old ways to illegally gain information.

If the attacks depicted in Blackhat do not scare you, they probably should, since everyone from journalists to congressmen to tech gurus has warned of the crippling effects of cyber terrorism in recent years. The film hints that these initial attacks are just the tip of the iceberg, and, in one subtly frightening shot, Hemsworth scans a busy airfield, ending his gaze on the control towers that rely on computers to direct air traffic. Films with tech-heavy plots always have an uphill battle to present this information in a relatable, entertaining manner, and Blackhat refuses to pander, which cuts two ways. I admire Mann for shooting a procedural that forces the audience to digest information alongside the actors, but this has a tendency to make both the characters and the story feel cold and detached.

The "who" and "why" here comprise a small story with big implications. There is not a Bond villain lying in wait in some space pod ready to recount his evil plan. This is about greed and a lack of conscience. There are thugs who enact their master's commands, which allows Mann to stage several expectedly cacophonous gun battles. Seriously, Mann knows how to shoot realistic, violent confrontations on city streets. The director also continues to shoot action amid everyday life. When I watch a Michael Mann film, it feels like I am right there in the action, which, in this case, happens to be in Hong Kong and Jakarta. The photography here is thankfully less jarring than Public Enemies, and the neon-tinged night shots recall the underrated Miami Vice. Interesting sound bridges, low-flying airplanes and beautiful Asian women are fast becoming a Mann staple.

The film could have used some editing. At 133 minutes it feels long, even with over 10 minutes of ending credits. The beginning is fast and interesting, and the climax is intense. The mid-section, when Hathaway and Lien begin a romance, is talky, and there are too many scenes of Hathaway typing away at his computer. The false climax outside of Jakarta is not particularly satisfying, but Mann manages to rein in the film for the finale. Blackhat is minor Mann, which is still better than most of the competition.

THE BLU-RAY:

PICTURE:

The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image replicates the theatrical experience. The digitally shot film has some interesting photography, with odd lighting and shadows, but the transfer is strong. Fine-object detail is abundant, and wide shots are sharp and crystal clear. Black levels are good, with digital photography limitations, and I noticed no blooming or aliasing. Skin tones are natural, colors are nicely saturated and sharpness is mostly strong. There's a bit of digital noise, which is expected.

SOUND:

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix can be quite aggressive. Gunshots rumble through the surrounds and rouse the subwoofer. Dialogue is clear, despite some obvious dubbing. Any weakness here is inherent in the source, and the score - which Harry Gregson-Williams said was highly manipulated - is nicely balanced. Spanish and French 5.1 DTS mixes are included, as are English SDH, French and Spanish subs.

PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:

This two-disc "combo pack" includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy and codes to redeem iTunes and UltraViolet digital copies. A slipcover wraps the standard Blu-ray case. The Cyber Threat (13:02/HD) discusses the film's cyber terrorism themes, and On Location Around the World (9:30/HD) has some nice BTS footage. Creating Reality (17:01/HD) serves as the making-of, and the cast discusses Mann's infamous shooting style with multiple takes.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Blackhat took a drubbing at the box office earlier this year but is better than its reputation suggests. The topical thriller suffers from some pacing issues, but direction Michael Mann creates a moody, entertaining thriller about cyber terrorism. It never achieves the dramatic heft of Mann's best films, but is nonetheless worth watching. Recommended.


Additional screenshots:

William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.

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