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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 23, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 04
Mann's cyber-thriller Blackhat a staggering misfire
Arts & Entertainment
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Mann's cyber-thriller Blackhat a staggering misfire

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

BLACKHAT
Now playing


Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) is a former MIT student and currently incarcerated hacker who is known in law enforcement circles as a 'Blackhat,' a faceless, nameless figure who does more damage with the click of a mouse than most do with an entire arsenal of high-tech military weaponry. He is recruited by driven FBI operative Carol Barrett (Viola Davis) and Chinese counterintelligence official Chen Dawai (Wang Leehom) to help apprehend a dangerous cyberterrorist responsible for the partial meltdown at a nuclear power plant in China as well as the manipulation of soybean futures on the U.S. stock market. Chaos stretching from Los Angeles to Hong Kong ensues.

That's the setup for Michael Mann's thriller Blackhat, an of-the-now potboiler that on a surface level couldn't be any more current what with the hacking scandal involving Sony Pictures, their film The Interview and cyber operatives apparently working under the direction of North Korea. Problem is, the movie plays more like a parody of the famed director's greatest hits, elements of Heat, Collateral, Manhunter and Thief woven throughout writer Morgan Davis Foehl's screenplay. It's an annoying, overwrought and unintentionally hysterical effort that's so stylistically overblown it makes episodes of 'Miami Vice' look more subdued than 'Leave It To Beaver,' everything building to an ungodly train wreck of a climax that almost has to be seen to be believed.

It just doesn't make any sense. Mann is a singular talent, and it isn't like the technical elements driving the filmmaker's latest aren't impressive. They are, Stuart Dryburgh's (The Piano) cinematography having a kinetic, almost primal intensity that fits the digital story being told perfectly. The score, composed by Harry Gregson-Williams (The Equalizer) and brothers Atticus and Leo Ross, propels the action forward, heightening tensions to their breaking point every step of the way. As for Mann, he stages sequences of violence and mayhem as well as he ever has, the bloodletting that results from these scenes having a carnal ferocity that's oftentimes chilling.

But what's the point if all this stylistic excellence is in service of a scenario that goes nowhere and does nothing, wasting its potential with nonsensical plot twists and wrongheaded machismo that's more bewildering than it is substantive. There's little to anything holding the nebulous strands of the plot together, everything going this way and that, more because it can and not because the actual story being told requires them to. Snippets of dialogue are ripped straight out of previous Mann endeavors whether they fit the moment or not (Hemsworth doing his best William Peterson during one third act exclamation of intent is particularly hilarious), while any attempt to make the world within which all of this is taking place feel authentic goes out the window about the time Hathaway hooks up with Dawai's cyber specialist sister Lien (Tang Wei) during the first 20 or so minutes.

I have no idea what happened. I get what probably drew Mann to the idea, cyberterrorism and its consequences certainly a threat and a danger the visceral, hard-edged filmmaker would of course be inclined to explore. But Foehl's script is so unrefined, so dripping in cliché and platitude, it feels more like the start of an idea than it does one that's close to being finished and ready for filming. There are so many moments where one slaps one's forehead in disbelief silencing a giggle; it's almost flabbergasting how ungainly and disheveled the overall narrative mechanics are, Blackhat a disappointment so staggering it's doubtful I'll see its like for some months to come.

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