On the Silver Screen – Blackhat
Michael Mann’s Blackhat casts Chris Hemsworth as a world class hacker taken out of prison to work for the government after a cyber terrorism attack on a Nuclear Power Plant in China.
Hacking is something that has been in the news a lot lately from repeated intrusions into Sony revealing some really personal emails to nude picture scandals from various actresses so a film focusing on this subject matter could appear to be really topical at this point.
The major issue with Blackhat is that it’s not the least bit realistic or hard hitting. It seems like we’re going back to seeing scenes of people typing as computer language appears on the screen and having that pass for plot progression. This is something that was prevalent in similar sorts of films from the 90s like Hackers or The Net but things have moved on and there’s not really a place for it (arguably there never really was).
Blackhat is one of the worst such offenders I’ve seen. The basic structure involves Hemsworth’ Nick Hathaway going to a location, pressing a few buttons and then getting the clue he needs to go to a different location. It all looks very stylish of course but that’s not unexpected from Michael Mann but it’s all so insultingly superficial. We even get the ridiculous CGI visualisations of the inner workings of the computer at several points to make everything seem all the more important.
The story is really boring to boot with horrendously poor pacing as we travel from exposition scene to exposition scene with some admittedly impressive action sequences thrown in every now and again to reclaim the audience’s attention. I found the constant changes in location to be really jarring and of course there’s the obligatory trip to Hong Kong to ensure that the film is attractive to the Chinese market. Not that I necessarily mind a Hollywood film with a large Chinese cast backing up the American actors but when it’s all as formulaic as this one it’s hard to really appreciate it.
Hemsworth is OK in this film but he’s really not given a lot to work with. He seems to be losing his continuing battle with suppressing his Australian accent and putting on others. I seriously had some trouble understanding what he was saying some of the time. There’s a lot of suspension of disbelief required in seeing a handsome, stylish and well built guy like Hemsworth as a hacker. In all honestly I couldn’t really get past it and I don’t think Hemsworth really managed to sell it all that way. It’s fine though because it culminates in him solving the issue with violence so he does get the opportunity to do what he is more suited to eventually.
Wei Tang’s Chen Lein serves as the co-lead and resident love interest. She does a really good job and has some impressive screen presence. She was probably only cast to give the film marketability for the Chinese market but she’s certainly very good. Maybe if the script had been better Hemsworth and Tang’s natural chemistry would have been put to better use.
Viola Davis’ Carol Barrett was the most interesting character here. I liked how she was put in charge of this mess and was really struggling with the notion of trusting Hathaway but had to tow the line to ensure the safety of her country. Her personal reasons for having a stake in this issue worked despite being a little typical and she gave a wonderfully melancholy performance when the story demanded it.
It’s a shame there was so little decent tension in the film as the potential was everywhere. We have a story where the United States are working with the Chinese government and everything seems to go really smoothly in that regard. It would have been interesting to explore the differing agendas between the two superpowers instead of them all getting along like a house on fire. It would also have been better if Hathaway’s true agenda had been unclear instead of making him clean cut and noble. It was all an uninteresting mess really and it didn’t have to be.
Michael Mann’s latest effort Blackhat is a boring, bloated and overlong mess of a film.
In a world where hacking scandals are a dime a dozen it’s confusing to see a film that’s so stuck in the 90s when it comes to this particular subject matter. This film features lots of scenes where people spout computer coding buzzwords while typing frantically as reams of code fill the computer screen in front of them. The structure involves Chris Hemsworth’s Nick Hathaway traveling all over the world so that he can push more buttons.
Hemsworth does an OK job with some really superficial material. It’s a big ask to believe a handsome, well built and styling man like him would be an expert hacker. He seems to be losing the ongoing battle with suppressing his Australian accent which does at times make him almost unintelligible.
His costar and love interest Wei Tang does a good job as Chen Lein. She has an impressive screen presence and exhibits some impressive chemistry with Hemsworth. If the script had been better then their forced romance might have worked but as it sits it feels a little underdone.
Viola Davis Carol Barrett manages to be the most compelling character. She is motivated by personal tragedy and struggles with the notion of trusting Hathaway. She gives a fantastic performance and I can’t help but feel that this film would have been better with her leading it.
For a story about a joint venture between the United States and the Chinese government there is very little in the way of decent tension. There doesn’t seem to be any trouble with the two ideologically opposed governments working together. It would have added some nice layers to the film to explore this.