DIR: Michael Mann  WRI: Morgan Davis Foehl • PRO: Thomas Tull, Michael Mann, Jon Jashni • DOP: Stuart Dryburgh  MUS: Harry Gregson-Williams, Atticus Ross, Leopold Ross • CAST: Chris Hemsworth, Leehom Wang, Wei Tang, Viola Davis

In 2002, moviegoers might have caught a glimpse of a trailer for Lucky Star, a Michael Mann film starring Benicio Del Toro, which featured all of the director’s visual hallmarks, including sleek cars, a nightscape of reflective surfaces, and a helicopter perspective of the city as a sea of blinking lights. Lucky Star seemed to centre on a globetrotting protagonist who was being pursued by powerful forces, both governmental and criminal, and a plot that somehow involved manipulating the market of tin-ore futures in Chicago and Hong Kong. In the end, there was no film, and this compendium of Mann-ish moments was really an advertisement for Mercedes. With Blackhat, Mann finally delivers a film on this very plot, featuring the very same ingredients and striking visual gloss. Its plot and characters, however, are as vapid as those of any 30-second commercial, but here are stretched to an unbearable 133 minutes.

Over his career, Mann has recycled the same material – single-minded, technically proficient cops/criminals pursuing a prize or target, and choosing professional accomplishment over the comforts of home and a conventional romantic life. This repetition has usually been at least to a thrilling end, sometimes to appealingly abstract effect, and occasionally even reached into the sublime. With Public Enemies, and now Blackhat, however, the same old ingredients are entirely sapped of any flavour.

Chris Hemsworth is Hathaway, a genius hacker serving a sentence in federal prison, who is furloughed to aid a joint U.S.-Chinese investigation of a mysterious hacker who has sabotaged a nuclear plant in Hong Kong and robbed millions in a manipulation of the futures market in Chicago. Hathaway is paired with his former roommate, Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang), who is now a cyber-security agent for the Chinese military, and Dawai’s sister, Lien (Tang Wei). The relationships between these characters are flat and unaffecting. Though never awful, Hemsworth’s performance sometimes appears to be a wan tribute act riffing on performances in Mann’s previous films. Apart from a few momentary sparks of interest from Viola Davis, John Ortiz and less than a minute of the enjoyably unsettling William Mapother, there is no-one to engage our attention. The villain is kept so distant as to serve virtually no dramatic function. Some energy might be implied by the fact that the plot takes the characters from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, to Malaysia, and finally to Jakarta, but it is all very frenetic to no particular point. In the end, it feels as if we have been on a plane for the duration of the movie and each new location has all the charm and colour of a Ryanair boarding lounge.

It isn’t Mann’s fault that we now recognise that the real menace to our wired world isn’t rogue “blackhat” hackers, but rather the security agencies of the big powers and their near-universal eavesdropping. Even so, his film works hard to blow its own credibility at every turn and emphasises just how out of touch it is by presenting the cyber agencies of United States and China as lacking the capability, firepower and ruthlessness of a few moustache-twirling baddies. Don’t dare write it in an email, but we all know this is pure cobblers.

Tony McKiver

15A (See IFCO for details)
132 minutes

Blackhat is released 20th February 2015

Blackhat  – Official Website



  1. You said it. Excellent article. It actually hurts to be able to see the word vapid used with anything involving Mann and not to be able to argue against it with righteous indignation. I really think few have had the potential to create as high a plane of filmmaking as Mann, and it’s a tragedy to see him not use his full abilities. I have the impression that I’ve seen a modern television program meant to be sleek as hell, but without any higher aspiration. Mann’s greatest talent is his higher aspiration.

    I hope that Mann reconnects with whatever it was that inspired him to create his most compelling work.

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