Do a Shot: whenever Chris Hemsworth takes his shirt off
Take a Drink: for Hemsworth’s push-ups
Take a Drink: anytime a character runs
Take a Drink: for each Michael Mann style moment
Take a Drink: when anyone types
Take a Drink: for each odd circuit shot
Take a Drink: each time the camera shakes, why not get more disoriented?
By: Matt Conway (Three Beers) –
Through the highs and the lows, Michael Mann has been one of those directors who just sticks to their guns, which I respect a great deal. After spending a few years writing for television, Mann broke out in 1981 with the James Caan film Thief. Mann afterwards continued to do great work, with films like Heat, The Insider, and Collateral being considered some of the best crime thrillers of recent memory. All three films featured great performances, a lot of thrilling moments, and Mann’s keen sense of style.
However, more recently, Mann has not had quite the same level of success. Mann has been known as one of the few directors to really embrace the digital filmmaking movement, which has been a plus and a minus. Each of his films do have their own distinct style, but that style at times has become somewhat disorienting. Both his more recent films, Miami Vice and Public Enemy, are not bad, but do not stand out a lot either. Mann’s latest Blackhat could be put in the same solid, yet unspectacular category.
Blackhat follows a cyber-hacker who is terrorizing the world with no true cause. To stop him, a team led by former jailed hacker Nick Hathaway go on a manhunt in the search for this hacker.
As usual with a Michael Mann film, Blackhat looks fantastic. Mann uses his big budget to his advantage, with large setpieces really getting across a grand sense of scale. Cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh gets quite a few great shots ranging from the cramped areas of Hong Kong city-life to the grand parade setpiece in Jakarta during the film’s finale. Mann has been a big part of the advancements in digital, and continues to show his expertise with it here, creating the film’s great look.
Another strength of Mann’s as a director is setting up action setpieces, and he does so well here. When the action comes on is when Blackhat is at its most exciting, with all of the action being exciting and filled with tension. No one is able to get across the frenetic sense of a shootout like Mann, with each bullet and devastating time they hit a person feeling so real. Not to give anything specifically away, but death is frequent throughout the film, giving each of the action scenes even more tension.
Blackhat features a talented cast who do a relatively good job in the film. A lot of people are disliking the work of Chris Hemsworth, who many do not find believable in his role as a cyber hacker. I think these complaints don’t make the most sense, as it seems people are just stereotyping who hackers are. Truth be told, coding is a skill that is becoming more universal, not a skill that just computer geeks master. In the role itself, Hemsworth does a solid job, and continues to prove a great leading man. He has a lot of charisma, and is able to show a edgier side audiences have not seen a lot of from him.
The rest of the cast does a solid job as well. Viola Davis is one of the better supporting actresses out there, and gives a lot of credibility to her role. She along with Hemsworth get a lot of wise-cracks and she handles the more serious moments well. Both Leehom Wang and Wei Tang from Lust, Caution do solid work with their roles in the film as well.
Considering what is happening in the world now, especially with what happened with Sony last month, Blackhat is a all too timely. Some may still look as computer hacking as a niche, but it’s really a potential danger in the society we live in today. The film does a very good job setting itself in our current world, which helps in getting the audience thinking about the ideas the film brings up about security and hacking.
Blackhat does have its fair share of dry spells. The film itself is actually paced rather consistently, but still seems to be a good ten minutes or so too long. Perhaps the most notable dry spell is its final third, which should be the most thrilling part. After an exciting setpiece towards the end, however, the film peaks, and can never regain the same sort of tension. Even the final setpiece, while well put together, is nowhere near as thrilling as the action preceding it.
One of the ways the film tries to build an emotional core is through a romance between Hemsworth and Tang, but as the audience it’s hard to buy their romance. It all feels like a rushed side element to add some more emotion to the character itself, as it’s just kind of touched on as a minor subplot. The two never had a genuine moment together in which I bought them as a couple, which is a big fault in Morgan Davis Foehl’s script.
Blackhat in general feels like a film that needed more life injected into it. While the action is exciting and some of the cat and mouse chase moments are engaging, the film often feels quite lifeless. I respect the more news-like angle that Foehl’s script takes, but the film as a whole just feels very distant to its characters. More dramatic moments with the characters would have given the film a lot more life.
As far as minor complaints go, there are a few issues that I still have with some of Michael Mann’s style. Mann still is a big fan of the shaky camera, and uses it in a more interesting way than most. Still, it’s very disorienting and just makes the action on screen feel clunky. Also, Mann does a weird visual where he shows the input from the hacker going through a series of wires, and it’s more corny than visually smart.
Blackhat is an enjoyable and timely thriller that is better and more ambitious than what audiences are used to seeing in January. That being said, it still lacks the emotional core and dramatic weight necessary for the film to stand out as anything that will be remembered in the future. A solid, yet unspectacular watch.