Michael Mann’s misfire manages to be terribly written, horribly acted (except for Viola Davis) and an assault on the eyes
“Blackhat” is such a massive fiasco that it’s hard to know where to begin analyzing it: There’s the screenplay by Morgan Davis Foehl, which alternates between dull, rushed exposition and an utter disregard for logic and narrative.
One might also catalog the terrible acting of everyone on screen not named Viola Davis, or the eye-scorching cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh (“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”), which follows in the footsteps of director Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies” by making expensive digital camerawork look like a cross between Dogme 95 smudge and footage from an iPhone that fell in a toilet.
No matter how you slice it, this is one hacky hacker saga; one that hasn’t cracked the code of how to make a movie about computer espionage that doesn’t come down to scene after scene of people sitting at keyboards and making clackety-clack noises with their fingers. Mann, to his credit, tries to jazz things up with tracking shots through microchips (it’s like the express lane to Tron’s house) or even putting the camera inside a thumb-drive slot or under a keyboard that’s being typed upon, but to little avail.
Chris Hemsworth stars as Hathaway, the world’s greatest computer hacker who also happens to look like Thor. Currently locked away for cyber-crimes, he gets furloughed from jail at the behest of his old MIT roommate Chen (Leehom Wang). Now a higher-up in the Chinese military, Chen is working with FBI agent Carol Barrett (Davis) to track down a hacker who put the whammy on both an Asian nuclear reactor and the American commodities exchange using malware created by Hathaway in his college days.
The pursuit of the villain takes our team — which includes Chen’s sister Lien (Wei Tang, “Lust, Caution”), who falls in love with Hathaway in one of the most arbitrary, chemistry-free screen romances in recent memory — to Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia, but all the globe-trotting studio money can buy is no substitute for things like character and suspense and motivation.
Hathaway barely exists as a concept, and he’s one of the film’s better-written roles; only Davis can make chicken salad out of this material, turning vague exposition and clunky dialogue into gold with just one sardonic glance over her sunglasses.
The screenplay demands that we not notice the bad guys’ inability to hit certain key characters despite constants sprays of automatic weapons fire, or the fact that an FBI agent asks another a personal question based on a phone call to which he was not privy, or that the blond, six-and-a-half-foot Hemsworth is supposed to blend in with the crowds in Asia, attracting no second glances as he’s on the run in airports or sneaking into computer facilities or engaging in gun battles in the middle of crowded street festivals.
It’s that climactic procession that underscores the problems with the cinematography, which looks its worst whenever there’s a light source on screen, be it a lamp or a headlight or a window facing the sun. So where does Mann stage his big finale? Amongst hundreds of people carrying torches, naturally.
Given Sony’s recent travails, the timing couldn’t be better for a movie about the vulnerability of international computer networks, but “Blackhat” is too much of an embarrassment to cash in its zeitgeist points.