Saturday, January 17, 2015

Review: Blackhat

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Michael Mann's latest film may not rank among his best, but it's worth while seeing for fans of the filmmaker's work and those who enjoy technically adept, swiftly paced thrillers.

The film gets off to a little bit of a sluggish start as U.S. and Chinese officials wring their hands over a cyber terrorism attack that shuts down a Hong Kong nuclear reactor and kills many of its employees. A Chinese cyber detective (if there is such a thing) played by Leehom Wang tells an FBI agent (Viola Davis) that the only person he trusts well enough to seek out the hacker is Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth), who is serving prison time for some illegal hacking activity of his own.

Hathaway is released and assists the FBI with its case and, in the meantime, falls into bed with Wang's sister, Chen Lien (Wei Tang). In terms of story, "Blackhat" doesn't bring anything to the table we haven't seen before. The film is filled with technical jargon that will likely pass over the heads of most who are familiar with writing code and the like and there are more than a few unnecessary scenes of computer circuitry in action that I could have done without.

But Mann's films typically play as procedurals and his best - "Thief," "The Insider" and "Heat" - often give you an inside view of how a particular profession works. In those cases, cops and robbers, whistleblowers and, yes, thieves. While "Blackhat" isn't one of the director's finest films, it still works as a detailed procedural, frenetic action thriller and timely take on cyber terrorism, considering the recent Sony hack. And it's often fascinating to watch this group of professionals - computer hackers and code writers - in action.

And similar to the filmmaker's previous works, there are some lovely visuals - neon signs bathing its characters in their glow - juxtaposed with the type of in-your-face handheld camera work we've become familiar with in the "Bourne" series.

Once "Blackhat" gets moving, it's pretty exciting and although its characters are slightly underdeveloped, Mann has a knack for using his actors' glances and body language to stand in nicely for dialogue. It's fitting that a movie about heroes and villains who communicate through codes most of us do not understand also features interaction between these characters that can be slightly elusive. This is a solid entertainment, even if Mann fans may have been hoping for a little more.

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