Veteran director Michael Mann’s latest takes the charismatic screen presence of Chris Hemsworth and the white hot topicality of computer hacking and combines them into a muddled and painfully dull misfire that sacrifices drama and spectacle in favour of technical accuracy.
When a Chinese Nuclear Power Station is subject to a hacking attack which destroys its cooling systems and nearly causes a meltdown, the Chinese Government reluctantly reach out to FBI to collaborate on tracking down the hacker, who has recently attacked the Chicago Mercantile Exchange using the same technology. Todo so, they are compelled to release convicted hacker Nicholas Hathaway (Hemsworth) so he can help them track down those responsible.
The film sees the usually sure-footed Mann suffering something of an identity crisis with an effects-drive opening dive down to the nano-scale workings of a computer of the type usually favoured by David Fincher. He follows this up by drenching the early scenes of the film in the golden, honeyed tones and po-faced machismo of Michael Bay at his most unironic. But even this doesn’t satisfy him; he quickly switches to an aggravatingly wobbly handheld shooting style for the rest of the film (unfortunately, the posturing, combative dialogue so reminiscent of Bay remains), possibly in an attempt to inject a sense of movement and vitality to the lifeless proceedings on screen.
The cast seem bored by the material, with Hemsworth and Viola Davis especially looking like they are struggling to stay awake whilst reciting the clunky and awkward script. There are probably a dozen ways in which you can make computer coding and digital terrorism exciting on screen but Mann fails to find any of them as he slavishly aims for a sense of realism that is as tedious as it is unnecessary. Genuine cybercrime and counter-terrorism consists mainly of serious people looking sombrely at screen after screen of numbers, letters and – to the layperson – indecipherable code. It may be authentic, but it’s not cinematic and it’s definitely not entertaining.
With the subject matter failing to provide the necessary frisson, it’s down to the characters and the plot to do the heavy lifting. Unfortunately the ultimate villain, played by Dutch actor Yorick van Wageningen, is bland and forgettable, a romantic subplot feels tacked on unconvincing and the actual motives behind the cyber-attacks are so disappointingly mundane as to render the whole two hour journey to their discovery a bit of a slap in the face (which might wake you up if you’ve dozed off by then). When the film does rouse itself to action, it’s brutal and effective but it’s so infrequent it feels like an intrusion rather than a welcome break from the somnambulistic pacing of the rest of the film.
Aggressively boring, “Blackhat” shows that accuracy alone cannot make for good drama no matter how topical or relevant the subject is. The shallow, one dimensional characters and threadbare plot suggest that the only hacks really involved in this movie were the ones making it.