Most reviewer’s expectation of a film released mid-January, with no awards aspirations, is usually low. So, sadly, Michael Mann’s BLACKHAT meets those low expectations, and perhaps exceeds them.
When the film starts, we find BLACKHAT’s main character, Nicholas Hathaway, played by Chris Hemsworth, “People” magazine’s newly minted “Sexiest Man Alive!”, in prison for computer bank theft. The FBI offers Hathaway his freedom if he helps them find a super hacker who caused a nuclear reactor to explode and volatility to a stock market commodity.
The FBI’s “deal” to a prisoner is something we’ve seen a million times in movies (at least it feels that way). There has to be a more creative way to incentivize a character to help the FBI than just his freedom… and I’m not sold that such a character needs to be in prison to make the character interesting or the story edgier. But this prisoner/deal cliché is an early indication that you are about to see a movie that we have ALL seen before.
As for the acting, Hemsworth, who brings his affable personality to a computer hacking genius with self-imposed barriers, does a worthy job of trying to bring his character from a two-dimensional, thriller action anti-hero, to a more well-rounded, three-dimensional character. He does an amazing job in several well-choreographed fight scenes. However, there is nothing in the script that indicates that Hathaway, basically a computer nerd with Thor muscles, is capable of taking on three to four mobsters at once and beating them to a pulp.
The rest of the cast—Viola Davis, Wei Tang (DRAGON and LUST, CAUTION), Leehom Wang (CHINESE ZODIAC and LUST, CAUTION)—all do good work (you wouldn’t expect anything less from the great Viola Davis). It is also great to see Wei Tang back on U.S. movie screens. I thought she was very good in Ang Lee’s LUST, CAUTION, and I hope that U.S. producers can find her more interesting work than BLACKHAT’s character limiting genre.
As for the visuals, Michael Mann loves his high-definition cameras. Normally, I don’t notice differences between film and HD (chalk that up to my bad peepers), but there are some definite moments that BLACKHAT footage looks like high-end video. There are also inexplicable moments of graininess. I don’t think this was intentional, at least I hope not, because it was very distracting.
BLACKHAT’s running time is 135 minutes. It isn’t a slog to watch (which I realize is a left-handed compliment), but 135 minutes is a long haul to get to the end of a movie that feels like we’ve seen before.
James R. Janowsky
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