Synopsis: Set within the world of global cybercrime, Legendary’s Blackhat follows a furloughed convict and his American and Chinese partners as they hunt a high-level cybercrime network from Chicago to Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Jakarta.
Release Date: January 16, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
It may seem a little premature considering it’s only January, but we already have a strong candidate for worst movie of 2015. Director Michael Mann’s Blackhat is, without question, one of the most poorly put together movies in recent memory, to the point it makes student films look like high art. It’s the type of movie where plot and character are terms used in air quotes and form and style are wholly non-existent. The one redeeming quality for Blackhat is that it has an eager cast who are willing, desperate even, to make the film work. Unfortunately, their efforts are wasted on an end product that is straight-to-DVD quality at best.
At its core, Blackhat is a cyber mystery wherein Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth from Rush) – a hacker of some renown who is serving a 15-year prison sentence – tries to thwart a presumed hacker threat. There’s some business about the FBI and a love interest and a trusted friend, but those elements are so poorly handled they are hardly worth mentioning. Every single plot point, in fact, is so poorly motivated that you hardly believe the screenwriter put a second thought into the script. Things go the way they do because that’s the way they were written, not because they fit the story or because they make sense. Hathaway falls in love with Lien (Wei Tang) simply because she’s the only young female in the entire cast. It’s as if she was put there for that sole purpose. The same is true for most of the characters.
Forget caring about these characters, though, as Blackhat is a challenge to endure for numerous reasons. Without a well-defined villain, the film never makes its goals entirely clear, which in turn makes it difficult to follow. You understand the basic component parts, but you don’t get why they are connected. And not in the way that the film feels like a puzzle, but rather that the writer started with an end goal for his villain and worked backwards. Even then, the final destination for Blackhat is hardly a revelatory turn; it’s actually pretty stupid. As a matter of fact, the latter third of the film is such a momentum killer that you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who cares about Hathaway and Lien’s predicament by the end. You just want the film to end so you can be put out of your misery.
What’s most baffling about Blackhat as a piece of cinema, is that it was directed by Michael Mann (Heat, Public Enemies), whose prolific work in the crime genre has earned him A-list status. Blackhat shows flashes of Mann’s ability, specifically his love of digital cameras, but it feels lifeless at best. Every now and again it’s as if Mann jumps to life and tries to give a scene some extra oompf, but the contrast is so jarring it’s hard to digest. His action scenes, for example, show splashes of that gritty realism Mann loves, but they are so poorly shot and choreographed it’s hard to focus. Similarly the use of multi-cam shots for these sequences leads to lots of jump and double cuts – flaws that should not be present in a major Hollywood release. If you had said Blackhat was directed by some film school graduate then it might be easier to understand the tonal inconstancies and poor filmmaking, but for someone of Mann’s talent the end product is a major disappointment.
Blackhat is a complete miss on all fronts; a disaster of a movie with little redeeming quality even for fans of Hemsworth. Its shoddy construction, uneven pacing, and boring story are the film’s most egregious crimes, but there are many more than that. Even the film’s attempts at using hacking to be original or compelling fall flat, as most of the film’s plot doesn’t actually revolve around computers. All viewers are better off letting this one pass by and forgetting it ever existed.
While Michael Mann’s love of digital video has helped capture nighttime locales in stunning detail with minimal equipment, the camera work on Blackhat by Stuart Dryburgh (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Texas Killing Fields) is bafflingly bad. Obviously, there is going to be that digital “haze” over all the shots, and that’s easy to get used to, but every now and again the film actually resorts to low quality shots that look like smartphone recordings. So, while one shot is a pristine composition you’d expect of a major Hollywood movie, the next is some disjointed shaky cam iPhone shot. It’s as if the crew tried to capture big sequences with multi-cam set-ups, but rather than pre-plan or choreograph them they shot them on the fly. It’s a risk that could have paid off big if executed well, but here it just calls attention to itself in all the wrong ways. It’s rare that you say a film is unappealing to look at, but Blackhat fits that description.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Michael Mann
- Screenwriter(s): Morgan Davis Foehl
- Cast: Chris Hemsworth (Nicholas Hathaway)Viola Davis (Carol Barrett)Wei Tang (Lien Chen) William Mapother (Rich Donahue)John Ortiz (Henry Pollack)
- Editor(s): Mako Kamisuna
- Cinematographer: Stuart Dryburgh
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Harry Gregson-Williams
- Music Performed By: Atticus Ross
- Country Of Origin: USA