I’m beginning to get Michael Mann and Ridley Scott muddled in my head, and that’s not a compliment to either of them. Both of them used to be among my most reliable, favorite directors. Both of them have created films I count amongst my favorite: Scott (Black Hawk Down) and Mann (Heat, Last of the Mohicans). I am also fairly certain that neither of them is going to direct another picture in that conversation for the rest of their careers. I’m going to stop picking on Ridley now and focus on Mann and the disappointing Blackhat.
With Blackhat, Mann attempts to create an epic crime drama, like unto Heat and Collateral. However, whereas those succeeded, Blackhat falls short, well long actually; a meandering mess with some unforgivably weird directing/cinematography issues in key scenes.
We’ve got ourselves a cyberterrorist, and he’s blown up a nuclear plant in China. The Chinese and Americans have a rare moment of friendship, decide to team up and take said cyberterrorist out before he strikes again. The code our villain is using is a variant of a grad school project of imprisoned master hacker Thor. I can’t remember the character’s name and I don’t care enough to look it up on IMDB, so we’re just going to stick with Thor.
Thor and his team of handlers and Chinese frenemies travel the world in search of our villain. Cyber crime and the very real threat it poses would make for a great film, but it also comes with the problem of being very un-film-friendly. Essentially a guy at a computer is slicing into databases and putting evil code in it. The effects of this can be spectacular (as in blowing up a nuclear facility), however the path you have to trod to get to that point, involves a lot of glamorized typing. It’s a tricky thing to capture and Mann is clearly uncomfortable trying to wrap the camera around it. His best films involve guns and heists not 1s and 0s. He tries to get the team in front of guns asap, but when he does hit his trademark action sequences, some extremely wonky cinematography kicks in and the tone of the film flashes wildly from Mann crime drama to “guy with a camcorder running on YouTube” quality film. That’s sloppy, and happening at the key junctions it does takes you completely out of the film.
Thor’s not bad in this movie, but Chris Hemsworth isn’t a good enough actor to elevate a script this confused (what is the deal with Thor’s ankle bracelet, because he seems to wander away from the group….a lot) or to overcome directing mistakes from someone who should really know a lot better. This isn’t an awful film, but it’s sure not great and that’s the bar Mann is capable of clearing with ease. Blackhat is a forgettable rental and feels like the last gasp of Mann’s relevancy as a director.