PLOT: A hacker (Chris Hemsworth) serving a fifteen-year prison term is offered a chance at freedom if he joins a international task force looking to take down a cadre of cyber terrorists who caused a reactor meltdown in China.
REVIEW: Forget what you've heard – BLACKHAT is not a January movie. While the name Michael Mann probably sets the bar too high for what BLACKHAT ultimately is, the fact remains that it's a thoroughly entertaining international thriller and something of a return to form for Mann – whose PUBLIC ENEMIES took it on the chin from many of his devotees and critics.
Being concerned with cyber-terrorism, this is nothing if not timely. What just happened with Sony should be enough to make people realize just how vulnerable we are to such an attack and that's a fear BLACKHAT exploits early and often, with Hemsworth's Hathaway doing things on the computer that defy explanation (although the script by Morgan Davis Foehl tries) making him only somewhat less invulnerable than THOR. Thank god he's playing one of the good guys.
While it maybe takes a little suspension of disbelief to believe that the hulking Hemsworth could be such a brilliant hacker and also just happen to be a natural with any kind of weapon, from a handgun, to a sharpened flathead screwdriver, this isn't uncommon for Mann. He's always had a thing for stylish, good-looking heroes, from Don Johnson's Sonny Crocket, to William Petersen's Will Graham, through Al Pacino and Robert De Niro's immaculately attired cop and thief from HEAT and so on. That's just part of Mann's world and heck, I'm not complaining. Mann is just about my favorite director (THIEF is my all-time favorite of his) and when you buy a ticket to one of his movies you should expect heightened reality. After all, isn't that more fun?
All the Mann hallmarks are here. While at 135 minutes BLACKHAT does occasionally drag (mostly in the first half) the good more than outweighs the bad. As usual for Mann, the action scenes are impeccable, from two extremely violent shootouts, to a few incredibly brutal hand-to-hand scraps prison brawler Hemsworth finds himself in when on the trail of his hacking adversary. Everything is brilliantly shot, with Mann shooting for the first time completely in digital, mixing low-grade hand-held stuff – getting right in there when Hemsworth takes a beer bottle to a baddie's face – to more sophisticated anamorphic shots. Using his LUCK cinematographer, Stuart Dryburgh, BLACKHAT has an epic, international feel, with memorable location shooting in Hong Kong and Jakarta.
Hemsworth seems well up to the task of headlining a Mann-movie, having the requisite toughness mixed with vulnerability, and it's interesting to see him mix-it-up in a hard R-rated actioner, with this being a far cry from THOR or SNOW WHITE & THE HUNTSMAN. Tang Wei (of Ang Lee's LUST, CAUTION) makes for a memorable romantic partner for Hemsworth. They have good chemistry, with Wei doing a solid enough job with the English dialogue. They also look fabulous together – which is a given. One of the big surprises here is how well Viola Davis fits into the Mann-universe, with her effortlessly spouting off the hardboiled dialogue, to the point that it really feels like Davis could headline a Mann-vehicle. She's that good. Taiwanese-star Wang Leehom doesn't fare quite as well, with him playing a pretty generic, uninteresting part. The same goes for Holt McCallany as the U.S Marshall tasked with keeping on eye on Hemsworth. He's portrayed as way too lunkeaded, and the way Hemsworth gets around his ankle bracelet monitoring early-on is groan-worthy.
Mann is known as a perfectionist, which is why it's surprising that a few things seem a little off with BLACKHAT, specifically some of the ADR looping, with lips often not match up with the words spoken (were parts rewritten after principal photography?). Wang's scenes with his Chinese supervisors are really poorly dubbed, even though the dialogue is delivered in Mandarin. One wonders if they ran afoul of the local censors and had to change these exchanges.
However, one thing that is absolutely perfect is Mann's use of music, despite all the controversy surrounding Harry Gregson-Williams semi-rejected score. Gregson-Williams still carries a screen credit (with Atticus Ross) and regardless of who's responsible for what I was hearing, the music was perfect and very Michael Mann-y.
While BLACKHAT is obviously not top-tier Mann, at times it comes close enough and a slightly diminished Mann is still better than just about everybody else. While I wouldn't be surprised if the famously finicky Mann ends up tinkering with the film a little more before it hits Blu-ray (as he did with pretty much all of his movies except PUBLIC ENEMIES) BLACKHAT is still slick-as-hell, and a rock-solid action thriller. Forget TAKEN 3. This is the real deal.
CLICK IMAGE TO OPEN GALLERY & SEE MORE PICS...