Blackhat movie review: broken code

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Blackhat yellow light

This mysteriously misbegotten flick should be a gritty 10-hour miniseries so it would have time to explore its ideas and potentially fascinating characters.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Michael Mann and Chris Hemsworth

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I usually love Michael Mann’s movies. They tend to feel like they were made by a grownup for a grownup audience: they’re usually pretty nuanced about people’s motives, for instance — there’s little room for black-and-white in Mann’s films — and they don’t trade in the usual Hollywood clichés about anything, even when they fall solidly into a particular genre. They tend to look like no one else’s movies in a way that I have yet to be able to pinpoint how, except that they are smooth and cool without fetishizing the visuals or being self-consciously showy.

The latter remains true for the mysteriously misbegotten Blackhat — visually, this is a film I feel like I could simply slide into and live there. And even the former holds for quite a long while, as brilliant bad-boy hacker Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth: Thor: The Dark World, Rush) helps the U.S. feds and the Chinese government hunt down the much more dangerous bad guy who just hacked into a Chinese nuclear power plant and caused it to melt down. Blackhat is worth seeing — just barely — for how Mann is able to make people sitting at computers and talking about how manipulating soy futures would work as a terrorist plot seem exciting and vital. And for Viola Davis (Get on Up, Ender’s Game) as an FBI agent who comes to respect Hathaway despite his status as a felon on furlough. (She’s the absolutely best thing in the movie, as she often is, and maybe she could have played the cool and cocky hacker, huh?) There’s lots of interesting gnashing over ideas about how nothing is secret anymore and how this changes national security concerns… including how people, not code, are the weak link in any kind of cyber security.

Mostly, though, I want Blackhat to be a gritty 10-hour miniseries so it would have time to explore its ideas and its potentially pretty fascinating characters. But the film never betrays itself more than when it tosses everything it has been out the window of a speeding car as it races to a hugely unsatisfying ending that is both completely un-Mann-like and utterly at odds with the story that has led to it. I don’t know what the hell happened, but I’m gonna blame the script, by first-timer Morgan Davis Foehl. Though clearly Mann (Public Enemies, Miami Vice) has to take some of the responsibility for choosing it in the first place.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Blackhat for its representation of girls and women.

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Fri, Feb 20, 2015 3:10pm

Was Tang Wei just as good as she was in Lust, Caution?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  a
Fri, Feb 20, 2015 5:32pm

I haven’t seen that film in years so I can’t say. Sorry.

Fri, Feb 20, 2015 6:36pm

“maybe she could have played the cool and cocky hacker, huh?”

Isn’t it funny how the bias towards men in certain roles is built into the language itself? The etymology of the word “cocky” suggests this is a feature appropriate for men only.

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
reply to  Jurgan
Sat, Feb 21, 2015 1:14am

Actress Amy Acker has been playing a cool and cocky hacker on the CBS series Person of Interest for three and a half seasons now and before that, both Buffy and Warehouse 13 featured cool female hackers.

So it is not like such a casting decision is all that unprecedented…

reply to  Tonio Kruger
Sat, Feb 21, 2015 3:35am

I’m not saying it is. I just found it amusing that even Maryann used (presumably unconsciously) a word that suggests male characteristics.