Film Review: Blackhat

(Written for Filmoria)

If it hasn’t been nominated for an award, films released in during the early months of January and February can often get over-looked. Without some kind of nomination slapped on to the poster we’re unlikely to even give it a second thought. This is probably the reason why many films are given this release date in the first place; get it out of the way early, and maybe critics won’t catch on to what a flop it was.


It’s sad to have to put Michael Mann‘s latest into this category. From the director of Collateral, Heat, and Public Enemies, and written by Morgan Davis Foehl, Blackhat should have been the intelligent thriller about computers and technology that this decade needed.

Set within the world of global cybercrime, the film follows convict Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth), who is recruited to join a Chinese and American task force to hunt a high-level cybercrime network by federal agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis), after a Hong Kong nuclear plant and the Mercantile Trade Exchange in Chicago are hacked by unknown perpetrators.

Internet crime and the evolution of technology is a widely used premise at the minute because of the realistic threat that it has on its audience. Whether it be cyberbullying or hacking, internet crimes have started to appear on the news more and more, as we become more conscious about the websites we visit and the content we share. Putting this on a global scale, Blackhat had the potential to be a bleak, theoretical, complicated, well-crafted thriller. But Blackhat is not realistic, logically or generally, nor is it threatening, on any kind of level, and instead comes across as an unfortunate situation rather than a global crisis in the midst of happening.

After a five-minute long introduction that follows a computer worm infiltrating a computer, it’s obvious that Blackhat is going to be a slow-burner. This isn’t the flaw, however, as Mann is known for packing stories like this with which gives the audience little to anticipate, you wait around for something big to hit, for something to trigger a sense of excitement or thrill, but it doesn’t come. And after waiting and waiting you do get lost in the premise because it lacks the high-voltage pace and story of Mann’s previous work.

Blackhat is the kind of film that you really need to get your head into. Put all of your attention into every single detail of the story and you may find that its intelligence overcomes its dullness. But it’s so difficult to want to give the film that much attention. There’s a lot of talk about code and data as characters sit at computer screens explaining what’s going on, and it all goes over your head because there’s nothing to counterbalance the techno-babble.

The disengaging premise is heightened through two qualities that a film like this needs to get spot on for an audience to feel invested. First, we have the villains, the threat. Somebody has to be blamed, and we need to see them taken down. But the villains in Blackhat are unseen, and therefore the hackers who are being tracked down have little threat because of their lack of presence, so we quickly lose interest in the chase. The second quality is the lead characters themselves, but it’s not only the villains of this story that we care little about, as the two leads from Hemsworth and Lien are also dry. Somehow, their characters come across as more robotic than the computers they’re using. There seems to very little human connection and emotion, not just between characters, but how they deal with the situation; there was no ambition or drive, no passion about what they were doing or reason for risking their lives. Even just a glimpse of a smile now and then would have done the trick. Would that be so bad?

Blackhat certainly isn’t a film about performances but, with the help of cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh, it’s a beautifully set film with stunning set locations, urban night scenes, and skylines of Hong Kong, Los Angeles and Jakarta, do give it some visual appeal.

It’s definitely not Michael Mann on top form, but Blackhat will hit it with the right audience. If you’ve got a long attention span and don’t need compelling central characters with a drive for what they’re doing, this might be up your street.

About Charlie Morris

Proofreader and film blogger living in Cornwall.

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