Review: BLACKHAT (2015) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Review: BLACKHAT (2015)

Michael Mann's BLACKHAT works fairly well as a tense action genre, but stumbles a lot with its drab narrative when he tries to go topical about cyber terrorism.

It's been six years since Michael Mann last directed a feature movie, and that was PUBLIC ENEMIES back in 2009. His latest movie, BLACKHAT, is Mann's first attempt in the cyber-thriller territory. At the same time, it was ironic that the release of BLACKHAT happens to be timely enough, especially given the recent Sony hack last November. Unfortunately, if one expecting Michael Mann to pull all the stops to craft an intriguing cyber thriller is best to keep their expectation low instead.


After two major hacking jobs caused a nuclear power plant explosion in China and an unusual market rise over the price of soybean futures, Chinese computer-expert agent Chen (Wang Leehom) join forces with FBI agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis) to track down the cybercriminal responsible for the attacks. However, Chen insists that the only person to help cracking the case is his former MIT classmate Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth), who is currently serving a 13-year sentence for a series of cyber crimes. Joining them in the globe-trotting hunt is Chen's beautiful sister, Lien (Tang Wei), who ends up falling in love with Hathaway. 

Likewise, Michael Mann knows very well about staging pulse-pounding, yet technically-proficient action sequences as well as scenes of realistic violence. The gunfights in the movie, always a Mann's main forte, is especially crackles with raw energy.

Some of the visual choices -- such as the one involved a tracking shot through the microchips and another one where a POV shot is shown underneath the keyboard while a character is typing the keys -- are both clever and interesting.

Taiwanese pop-star sensation Wang Leehom is adequate enough as a determined Chinese computer-expert agent, Chen. Viola Davis, in the meantime, gives her all with her deeply committed performance as the no-nonsense FBI agent, Carol Barrett.

Two brief, but engaging gunfight sequences -- one that set at the tunnel and shipping docks, and another one at the nighttime highway.

It's kind of baffling that Michael Mann chose Chris Hemsworth to play a role as a hacker. Not that I have anything against Hemsworth but the problem is, his model-like appearance and muscular physique hardly convince me to see him in such a role. Tang Wei, who is an accomplished actress in China, delivers a surprisingly stiff performance as Hathaway's love interest, Chen Lien. This is mostly due to her lacklustre English-language ability that made her speak like reading her dialogue from a cue card. Although both Hemsworth and Wei are photogenic enough as a couple, their onscreen romance lacks passion and above all, chemistry.

Ever since Mann briefly experimented high-definition video camera in ALI (2001), he embraces his newfound obsession over digital filmmaking for his three subsequent movies -- COLLATERAL (2004), MIAMI VICE (2006) and PUBLIC ENEMIES. The results were visually unique to look at, but that's because Mann mixes digital with traditional 35mm film stock for those movies. However, in BLACKHAT, Mann's decision to shoot his movie entirely in digital format makes his entire picture looks disappointingly shoddy. Not only that, he and cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh made a huge mistake opting for shaky camerawork throughout the movie. Problem is, the odd combination of fully-digital format and herky-jerky camera technique often resulted in a series of inconsistent focus, particularly during the fast-moving scenes (e.g. action sequence that involves running).

Although Mann does an excellent job staging most of the action sequences in BLACKHAT, the climactic finale set at a street festival in Jakarta feels both underwhelming and preposterous. The particular scene looks absurd when it took the locals a long while to go panic while Hathaway is squaring off against the bad guys in the middle of the crowd.

Former assistant editor Morgan Davis Foehl's debut screenplay is another weak factor in this movie. His heavy-handed approach on technobabble feels particularly dry and dreary for a cyber-thriller genre. 


The timely subject matter of cyber terrorism in BLACKHAT could have been a great comeback for Michael Mann. Too bad the movie ends up as a mediocre effort that fails to capitalise its potential.

* This review is written courtesy from UIP Malaysia press screening *

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