‘Blackhat’ Review: ‘Hackers’ v2.0


Movie Rating:


Back in the 1980s and ’90s, Michael Mann was one of the more interesting filmmakers kicking around Hollywood. His visual style was electric, transforming pulpy subject matter into art through visual sensation. Then he started making movies at a slow Kubrickian rate and his unique style got swallowed up by the studio standard. Now a Michael Mann movie doesn’t feel quite so special anymore. However, a certain level of excitement still accompanies the release of a new Mann film, especially when he picks interesting subject matter. What’s his new movie about again? Cyber-terrorism? Oh… never mind.

Yep, thanks to the NSA and Sony email leak scandals, hackers are once again blockbuster villain fodder, and unfortunately they haven’t gotten any easier to take seriously. This time, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is a hacker who was so good that he had to be locked up like Hannibal Lecter. Then a new super evil hacker shows up and starts wreaking financial havoc with a keyboard. The government cybercrime team led by Viola Davis in a silly wig has no idea how to stop this new threat. At least, not until one of them notices that the new hacker’s code was ripped off from his old college roommate (you guessed it, Hemsworth). So, Thor gets released from prison to help stop the new hacker’s reign of terror. He does so the only way he knows how, by standing around a series of laptops with his castmates discussing how thrilling and terrifying typing into a computer is. Eventually, some stuff blows up and thank god, because you’ll be quite sleepy after all the technobabble and vigorous typing montages.

‘Blackhat’ falls into Mann’s pet theme of heroes and villains who fight each other with grudging respect. It’s also beautifully shot in crisp cinemascope compositions, features a few solid action set-pieces, and is filled with super slick menswear. So, it’s certainly a Michael Mann movie on the surface and there’s fun to be had on that level, enough that Mann apologists might even consider rallying behind the movie.

However, they really shouldn’t do that. I know it’s tough. When you’re starving for a Michael Mann movie, you’ll hungrily lap up anything and say, “Well, it’s not ‘Heat’, but…” However, this is not a time for such support. ‘Blackhat’ just might be the worst movie that Michael Mann has ever made. Beneath the soothing surface is a big black hole cobbled together with tedious plot devices from 1990s thrillers. The script by Morgan Davis Foehl, a first-time writer and “Additional Editor” of ‘I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry’, is rather pitiful. Sure, the cyber-crime sequences are slightly more realistic than, say, ‘Hackers’, but beyond that ‘Blackhat’ deserves to be discussed in the same breath as that ’90s joke. The plot is dull, the characters are indistinguishably drab, the dialogue is flat, and the running time is interminable. Mann has to whip out all of his trademark tricks and Thor dressed in low neckline shirts in a desperate attempt to distract viewers from the emptiness of his latest opus. It doesn’t work.

It doesn’t matter how softly the actors speak or how important the score and cinematography makes their words feel, ‘Blackhat’ is silly at best and stupid at worst. Admittedly, the film has one gearshift action scene that kicks off the third act, which is pretty damn impressive. Regardless, I can’t in good conscious suggest that anyone should suffer through the 90 or so minutes it takes to get there. The setup is simply too dreary and boring for that meager payoff, and the climax that follows is so ridiculous that it drags the movie back down to the depths after a single visceral peak. By the time that viewers are supposed to believe that a man who looks like Thor can disappear on the streets of Indonesia by wearing a baseball cap or sunglasses, ‘Blackhat’ has jumped the shark into absurdity.

If Mann had even a tiny sense of humor, he possibly could have passed off ‘Blackhat’ as self-parody, but he doesn’t. Instead, the joke plays out unironically and rather tragically. The movie is the work of a filmmaker who has lost the pulse of the general public and desperately wants it back. To say he failed this time is an understatement, but I wouldn’t write him off entirely just yet. Mann could still surprise us with one more late-career masterpiece. The only trouble is that given his schedule, it will likely be five years before he even attempts to make up for this mess. Hopefully, his next movie is worth the inevitable wait, because ‘Blackhat’ sure wasn’t.


  1. Chris B

    I love Mann’s stuff but I had a bad feeling about this one since the first time I saw the trailer. Whoever decided to cast Hemsworth as a genius computer hacker should be fired.

    Mann has been off his game since Miami Vice, that was the movie where he finally let the style completely overwhelm the substance. I keep thinking of Quentin Tarantino’s quote, something along the lines of “Director’s get worse as they get old”. I can’t think of a single director of advanced age who doesn’t fit that profile Scott, Mann, Carpenter, Eastwood (although I’m still hoping I’ll dig American Sniper on tuesday).

    It’s just too bad we had to wait so long for a new Mann film…and this is the result 🙁

    • Miami Vice? Are you sure you don’t mean Cuba Vice? That’s what I hated so much about Miami Vice, it barely took place there… And it took itself so seriously. I can’t imagine Black hat being worse than this one.

      • For what it’s worth, the Director’s Cut of Miami Vice plays better than the theatrical cut. I’ve never really disliked the movie, but it’s certainly one of Mann’s weaker efforts.

        I just haven’t been able to figure out what’s going on in Mann’s head since he transitioned from film to video. He used to be such an amazing visual stylist. He became an early advocate of digital cinematography, and I suppose that time has shown the rest of the industry following him. Today, you can get some really beautiful images from digital cameras, and a lot of times audiences can’t even tell the difference between film and digital. Yet Mann’s movies still have a very ugly, smeary, “Video” look to them, like he’s shooting them on a cheap camcorder. I can see this in all the trailers for Blackhat.

        I suppose this is the new aesthetic he’s decided to embrace, but it just doesn’t look very good. It was perhaps tolerable in Collateral, but there’s just no comparison between that and something like Heat or Manhunter.

        • It’s funny you mention that, because I’ve thought if it for years. It looks like he’s shooting video. Very ugly. I think that style worked great for Collateral, but with Public Enemies being a period piece and all, while not as gritty looking, still very digital looking. Imagine Last of the Mohicans like that. EEWWWWW!!

          • Chris B

            Huh….how much extra footage did they add for the release? I mean the movie seemed pretty goddamn long in the theatre. Did they add like another 20 minutes of speedboats ripping across the carribbean? 🙂

          • It’s only about 7 minutes longer, but some of the previous footage has also been shuffled around. As I recall, it opens totally differently.

            If you hated the theatrical cut, I doubt that the DC will make you suddenly love the movie. It’s still essentially the same movie. But as I said, it plays a little better. The theatrical cut kind of feels like an unfinished rough cut, and the DC feels like the intended final edit.

          • Chris B

            I wouldn’t say I hated it, just thought it was pretty mediocre conpared to his previous stuff.

            Let’s hope Phils right and Mann still has one good movie left in him…

        • Chris B

          I know what you mean about the smeary look, all I can think of is that was the way Mann’s films made the transition to Digital and he’s decided to stick with that aesthetic as part of his calling card…maybe he thinks it looks super gritty and rad. You have to admit you can usually guess a mann movie during the first few seconds just by the style of video.

  2. I haven’t liked a Mann movie since The Insider. He’s obviously a very talented visual director, but his films often seem to be very sterile to me…I don’t have an emotional connection to most Mann movies/characters.

    • Chris B

      That’s a complaint I’ve heard a lot and I can see where people are coming from with regards to his later stuff, but I had a pretty big emotional connection with the Characters in Collateral, mostly due to the fantastic performances by Foxx And Cruise.

      I find Steve McQueen to be the most sterile filmaker around these days, his films are incredibly well-composed visually, but lacking any human feeling. He makes Mann seem as warm and fuzzy as vintage Spielberg. The dudes colder than Kubrick! 🙂

  3. Chris B

    I just think this is a textbook example of a director attempting to stay relevant and choosing the wrong material. Mann is over 70 now and yet he chooses to make a movie about cyber-terrorism? Old people are bad with technology! Directors need to stick to their strengths! It would be like if JJ Abrams made a western…..wait,…that would probably end up being rad. Anyways….u know what I’m saying?

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