Saturday 2 November 2019

Movie Review: Blackhat (2015)

A laborious techno thriller, Blackhat clicks all the wrong commands and hacks its way to a failure of entertainment.

An unknown hacker uploads malware, blowing up a Chinese nuclear reactor and manipulating the Chicago mercantile exchange to yield instant profit. The Chinese government appoints Captain Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang) to collaborate with the FBI's Agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis) to track down and stop the hacker. Chen brings along his tech-savvy sister Chen Lien (Tang Wei), and once in the US insists that master hacker Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) be released from prison to help out.

The investigation leads to Hong Kong and ruthless Lebanese middle man Elias Kassar (Ritchie Coster), who is doing the dirty work for the techno crime lord. Hathaway and Lien fall in love as the pursuit picks up pace, with Kassar proving a deadly and resilient foe. To track the identity of the mastermind Hathaway infiltrates a National Security Agency system, instantly becoming a fugitive again but leading him to a desolate site in Malaysia and a climax in Indonesia.

Despite a potentially compelling and topical hacking premise, director Michael Mann manages to almost get everything wrong in Blackhat. At 133 minutes, this is an over-long movie devoid of interesting characters and in love with its own look, Mann returning to his worst Miami Vice tendencies of focusing on wavy hair, cool shades and colour compositions while the core of the film disintegrates all around the pretty pictures.

A lame and derivative script does not help. The central crime is familiar since Goldfinger, and is here punctuated by plot holes and asked to lean heavily on the criminal-helping-out cliche done to death in movies like The Rock and The Jackal. Once again, a subject matter expert is released from prison to help stop a crime, and once again, the convict is somehow much more proficient in all aspects of crime fighting than all the assembled law enforcement professionals.

The film suffers a stunning blow when the plot details are revealed, a really? moment that pauses to reflect on the irreversible damage to the film's credibility whereby an attack on a nuclear facility is just a test run for...flooding remote river beds to corner the tin market? Compounding matters is the cardinal sin of never introducing the antagonist as a character, the mastermind behind the dumbfounding plan to attack the trading price of a cheap metal never even given the courtesy of a decent introduction. He's just a guy with a bad haircut and worse wardrobe.

A couple of signature Mann action scenes featuring plenty of gunfire help alleviate the tedium, and Blackhat does have an attractive multicultural cast in its favour, and goes out of its way to promote US-Sino cooperation. But while Tang Wei emerges as a possibly interesting character, Chris Hemsworth sucks the charisma out of the film with a dour one-note performance, and all too often grabs Tang's arm and pulls her along in a nauseatingly old-fashioned display of faux male authority. Viola Davis is utterly wasted in an underwritten role.

A disappointing combination of boring and asinine, Blackhat deserves a dose of its own malware.

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