Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 13 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Violence and some Language
Directed by: Michael Mann
Written by: Morgan Davis Foehl & Michael Mann
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Wei Tang, William Mapother, John Oritz & Leehom Wang
BLACKHAT has the benefit of being released at an unintentionally relevant date. Cyber crime is a scary business. Recent hackings of online companies, Sony over THE INTERVIEW, and videogame networks have made this a more publicized concern. Thus meaning this movie would be pretty intense at a moment like this right? Well, Michael Mann has hit hard times as a director. He’s made awesome movies (HEAT and COLLATERAL), but also a few recent misfires (MIAMI VICE being arguably his worst film). However, this new effort may have been a welcomed comeback for the acclaimed director, but it was not to be as BLACKHAT is a bad film from start to finish. The subject matter might be interesting, but the end product is anything but.
After a Chinese nuclear power plant is almost destroyed due to a system hack, agent Chen Dawai is assigned to investigate the matter. A mysterious hacker is behind this attack and has also made moves through other countries. Faced with impossible odds of capturing this unknown global madman, Chen seeks help from a convicted hacker named Hathaway. They quickly discover that the unknown criminal they’re after might not be interested in money or politics and instead just wants to watch the world burn. Time is running out, their pursuit intensifies and Hathaway begins to fall for Chen’s sister.
In premise, BLACKHAT sounds familiar but promising. The dead giveaway that this film may have been a mixed bag was in the January release date (typically a dump month for crap that studios have no faith in). I kept my hopes high and walked into this movie wanting to like it. Over two hours later, I walked out pissed at Michael Mann and anyone who had anything to do with this pile of cinematic excrement. The plot feels like a skeleton of a story. You have a set-up and that’s pretty much all you get. The rest of the details are either red herrings or are throwaway developments. It certainly doesn’t help that there isn’t a compelling character on display either, which leads to an absence of suspense and a forced cliché romance. It’s also worth noting that BLACKHAT also has the most unintimidating villain to grace the screen in years. He’s laughable and the final stand-off is ridiculously inept.
Mann has been known for using a handheld style that’s full of shaky camera work. This played well in COLLATERAL, but tanked in MIAMI VICE. BLACKHAT is shot in the same way. Though it’s not nearly as annoying in conversation scenes, the camera’s frenetic movements soil what could have been awesome action scenes. This questionable style gets used to such an over-the-top degree that I actually got a headache for a minute or two after a fight sequence. There are a couple of decent scenes in the film (one of which has already been given away by most of the internet ads), but I couldn’t help but feel that there was potential for a great film somewhere inside this hollow shell of a movie. BLACKHAT’s biggest sin is that it’s boring. It’s so very boring, when it should be suspenseful, thrilling, emotionally engaging….pretty much anything except boring.
If I travelled back in time to the night when I first saw COLLATERAL and explained that Michael Mann would be pumping out some awful films in the future, my past self would not believe my future self. Unfortunately, Mann’s filmography seems to have taken a significant slump. The locations in BLACKHAT might be gorgeous and there are a couple of okay scenes here and there, but bland characters, a stupid script, awful shaky cam, and the horrible pacing of the film ruin any possible enjoyment of the material. If you desperately want to see this movie, wait for a rental opportunity or cable. At home, you get the benefit of the pause button and extra time to make yourself multiple cups of coffee to remain awake during this bore. Otherwise, my advice is to skip BLACKHAT altogether.