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Blackhat (Michael Mann) - Review

Blackhat

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

MICHAEL Mann’s cyber terrorism thriller Blackhat is certainly pertinent given its proximity to last year’s Sony email hack but anyone expecting a film to rival the quality of his masterpieces such as Heat or Miami Vice had best check their expectations at the door.

This bears the hallmarks of classic Mann in places but is an altogether more patchy affair that suffers from lapses in narrative logic, a curiously underwhelming leading man and some dodgy pacing.

The story does hold interest for anyone keeping their eye on the ever-evolving world in which we live and the opportunities such evolutions pose to the criminal elite. It’s something that has already provided Mann with fertile hunting ground with films like Heat, The Insider and Miami Vice and, once again, engages quickly here.

Indeed, the plot itself was inspired by the true story of the Stuxnet virus that crippled a nuclear power plant in Iran in 2010 and uses a similar incident to kick-start proceedings, as a cyber terrorist targets a nuclear plant in China and forces a meltdown, prompting the Chinese authorities to team up with the FBI to hunt the man responsible.

In order to do this, however, they must also enlist the services of a renowned but now imprisoned hacker (Chris Hemsworth), who co-authored the code that has pre-empted the attack and who is one of the few men capable of mounting a credible search for the terrorist before he can strike again on an even larger scale.

Early on, Mann’s thriller strives for authenticity by including countless conversations about coding and the threat that malware and computer terrorism pose to the modern world. But while interesting to a point, it allows the film to become a little too bogged down in techno babble and keyboard ‘action’.

Ironically, it’s only when the film broadens its scope to incorporate a global chase, in which gun battles on the street become the order of the day along with Mann’s penchant for creating arresting visual landscapes, that the film gains any serious momentum. But at the same time, this requires some leaps of faith from the audience and strains the credibility that Mann strived so hard to gain.

Similarly, Mann’s characterisation suffers with Hemsworth’s hacker struggling to bring the same kind of gravitas or charisma as some of the director’s best protagonists, whether it’s De Niro or Pacino from Heat, Tom Cruise in Collateral or Colin Farrell in Miami Vice.

His relationship with Tang Wei’s colleague is similarly tepid despite being integral to proceedings, while supporting players such as Viola Davis, John Ortiz and Wang Leehom are under-employed despite offering signs of interest. Yorick van Wageningen’s villain also offers very little in the way of presence and is arguably unveiled too late in proceedings.

For all of its obvious shortcomings, however, Blackhat remains worth seeing for followers of Mann’s work, for even on average form the director remains the type of filmmaker who can bring something worthwhile to the table. Blackhat is solid enough, if nowhere near the classic status of Mann’s best.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 133mins
UK Release Date: February 20, 2015