Blackhat (Universal Pictures, R)

blackhat 75These fighting and chasing and shooting and blowing up sequences are necessary because, you know, computer hacking isn’t visually interesting enough for a mainstream audience.

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As the new Michael Mann thriller Blackhat gets rolling, its setup makes it seem like something of a cyber Silence of the Lambs: A wild hacker is on the loose, so the FBI enlists the imprisoned hacker Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth), vital for his expertise in the field and knowledge of how a criminal’s mind works, to catch him. The Silence of the Lambs comparison may come quickly to mind on the account of Mann having directed Manhunter back in 1986, which marked the first film depiction of Hannibal Lecter. But really, this comparison to Blackhat is headed in the wrong direction; Blackhat has Hathaway able to be freed from prison entirely if he’s able to catch the at-large hacker, and in trying to catch him he’s free but for an ankle bracelet with a tracking device. This allows him not to be as restricted as, say, Lecter was in his aiding of Clarice Starling’s search for Buffalo Bill.

This also points to the first of very many tough-to-swallow facets of Blackhat’s story: Apart from being a legendary computer hacker and having been imprisoned for several years, Hathaway is handsome; great at fighting, running, chasing, and using guns; he’s got crazy muscles, etc. (This is all apparently justified by one throwaway scene in which we see him do pushups in his jail cell.) These fighting and chasing and shooting and blowing up sequences are necessary because, you know, computer hacking isn’t visually interesting enough for a mainstream audience.

I’ve never been much of a Michael Mann fan, and Blackhat is a good example as to why. It isn’t that it’s a terrible film—some of the camerawork is cool, and despite its length (133 minutes) it’s never boring—but it’s testosterone-y and self-serious and generally forgettable. Characters who aren’t white males are treated as though they’re thoroughly disposable, and the script, by newcomer Morgan Davis Foehl, lacks credibility at every turn. Apart from the physicality of Hathaway as described above, this is the type of movie in which, say, an official at the NSA would open a suspicious attachment to an unsolicited email because, well, how else would they advance the plot if he didn’t?

I’ve also never really liked Hemsworth, who to my eyes has never come close to justifying the level of stardom he’s currently enjoying. That said, a lot of the supporting cast are more friendly, such as FBI agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis, who seems to do no wrong as an actress) and Hathaway’s love interest Lien (Tang Wei; I spent the whole film trying to figure where I knew her from—I’ll spare you the trouble, and tell you: She was the lead in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution). The presence of these two hardly justifies your time and money spent seeing this in all other ways mediocre film, though—nor the making of the film in the first place. | Pete Timmermann

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