Rates: * * * 1/2
Why Did I Watch It? From a list of overlooked blockbusters posted by David Sims on the ‘Atlantic’
A shadowy cyber criminal pulls off a series of daring infractions; he scrambles the systems of a nuclear plant and causes a meltdown, then artificially inflates the price of soy futures and panics the stock market. What will his next target be? Chasing a ghost, and out of their depth, American and Chinese agents take a gamble; springing an imprisoned hacker to help them tackle their virtual enemy.
Another of Michael Mann’s tough minded, alpha male thrillers; this plays a little bit like a globalised ‘Heat’. The two-sides-same-coin dynamic is represented here by the hacker Nicholas, and his former college roomate, now Chinese police captain, Chen; and while Chris Hemsworth and Leehom Wang are fine, they aren’t (very obviously) De Niro and Pacino. Viola Davis livens up the supporting cast, but her role is small, and the film is otherwise lacking in charisma; solid, but without enough panache.
The set pieces are well staged, with the meltdown sequence particularly effective. It is actually so good that it feels odd that the movie starts with this; it may have worked better as a climax (apparently Mann did shift it, in his director’s cut). But the tension builds well, and the basic premise – that in an interconnected world EVERYTHING is vulnerable – is a good one for a modern thriller. The invisibility of the villains is also a plus: it’s that old routine from ‘Jaws’, what you imagine is always more frightening that what you can see.
So the actual climax, when it does arrive, is a serious letdown. The mastermind behind all of these nefarious deeds? This multidimensional chess player who has predicted everything that everyone can do, and stayed 32 steps ahead? A chubby, older guy in a Hawaiian shirt, played by the sexual poredator from ‘Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’.
The staging of the final showdown between this guy and Hemsworth is nifty though: the characters are at some giant, outdoor street festival in Indonesia and there are thousands of extras on screen, making a colourfully bright and unusual backdrop. But there is no real tension to what happens; Hemsworth kills the villain and his chief henchman, snap! Like that. Never explained: exactly how this nerdy computer guy learned to be a fighting/killing machine a la John Wick (he learned this all in prison? I guess so). But after a good first half, this finale make the film falls very flat.
On release, ‘Blackhat’ was an infamous bomb: it grossed only $1.7 million dollars in its opening weekend, and got to only $19 mill, total, worldwide. Michael Mann does not make cheap films; the reported budget for this was $70 million, so the studios involved took a bath, and Mann has not directed since.
Even this is a little strange. While the film doesn’t reach the heights of the director’s best, it is still a robust and functional action thriller, with a high profile star. There is a big audience for these types of movies, and you would have thought it could find a larger one than it did, despite its shortcomings.