Blackhat is an action thriller that takes place around the globe disguised as a computer hacker procedural. Director Michael Mann uses a similar sharp nighttime exterior atmosphere that he also used in recent films (Collateral, Miami Vice, Public Enemies) but also utilizes daytime shootouts and a couple of inside-a-computer-grid shots that reminds one of something David Fincher would use.
It’s these very p.o.v. (CGI) shots that open the film and thrust the audience into the world of computer terrorism. We twist and turn along transistors and wires while integrated circuits loom large; this could also be the entrance to Tron. Chris Hemsworth plays Nick Hathaway, former MIT student and currently incarcerated in a federal prison for his hacking activities. The action shifts back and forth between Chinese military meetings where they look for the culprit that hacked into a nuclear plant’s computer system and caused a meltdown. Domestically the FBI gets involved when the Chinese request that Hathaway be set free to help them investigate what appears to be a worldwide consortium of cyber terrorism. An international cast includes Leehom Wang, Wei Tang, Viola Davis and in an uncredited performance as a federal marshal Holt McCallany.
We hear acronyms like RAT, which stands for remote access tool. Hathaway is released although wearing an ankle bracelet that lets Davis (FBI) and McCallany track him. Soon they are teamed with Wang and Tang and moving from Washington D. C., to L.A., to Hong Kong, to Mainland China and eventually to Indonesia. As the team closes in on a main suspect the first of two major gun battles occur.
Mann paces his latest film like a combination of his 80s-films like Thief with the more modern narrative form employed by Asian action films, particularly Korean films. All the supporting characters are defined by their actions. Curiously McNally never speaks until late in the movie when he asks Davis, “You don’t have to answer this question. But who did you lose in 9/11?” A couple of minutes later most of the entire cast is dead except for Hemsworth and the femme. At this point you are sucked into the action not only because it’s so riveting but also because you can’t wait to see what happens next.
- Michael Bergeron