Blackhat - Blu-ray Review

'Mann has characters spouting technobabble that will likely confuse the lay members of the audience, whilst insulting anyone watching who knows a bit about how computers work in the real world'.

It seems that, when it comes to his 21st Century films at least, it's best to accept that Michael Mann is a director who now puts style firmly over substance. His latest release, Blackhat - Mann's first directorial effort since 2009's Public Enemies - is no different, with the man who delivered such revered cinema as Heat and The Insider during the 1990s now displaying the lack of depth within his film almost as a proud calling card.

Kicking matters off with a cyber-terrorist attack on a Chinese power plant, Mann emphasises the computer hacking theme of Blackhat through some shameless Hollywood clich├ęs, from overdone CGI rendering of "information" (read: lights) passing through wires and circuit boards, to characters hitting keyboard keys really hard to show how serious they are. Mann's screenplay, co-written with Morgan Davis Foehl, has characters spouting technobabble that will likely confuse the lay members of the audience, whilst insulting anyone watching who knows a bit about how computers work in the real world.

The cyber-terrorism theme gradually fades into the background, however, with Blackhat transforming more and more into a bog standard action thriller the longer it goes on. Nick Hathaway's (Chris Hemsworth) skills as a hacker, initially vital enough to warrant his early release from prison, continually decrease in importance as the character becomes an ever more generic thriller protagonist. The computer-based elements that remain become laughably easy for Hathaway, losing any authenticity Mann may have built up during Blackhat's first half. Whilst the story is never awful, it's certainly neither original nor inspired, with a big reveal about the villain's motives at the start of the final act being perhaps the most unglamorous and pedestrian anticlimax seen in a thriller for some time.

Mann's fingerprints are all over this in terms of style, something that may make up for the lack of substance in story and character for some members of the audience, but will only make matters worse for others. The director's shooting style is regularly distracting, using shaky handheld camerawork for every action sequence and a few others besides, whilst unnecessarily throwing in gratuitous slow-motion effects at various points for absolutely no reason other than self-indulgence. For the story it tells, Blackhat's running time in excess of two hours feels bloated and unnecessary, with a great deal of water-treading, undernourished romance and muddy politics that could have easily been cut from the middle.

Blackhat is never a terrible film, but as thrillers go there are much more inventive and engaging examples on offer, both from recent years and further back in Mann's own back catalogue. There's little here worth recommending for anyone apart from Mann devotees, and even they will probably find this something of a struggle to enjoy.




Blackhat is available on UK digital download on Monday 15th June, and on UK Blu-ray and DVD from Monday 22nd June 2015.


By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

2 comments:

  1. In fairness to Blackhat, I saw it on a plane but I can't say I feel particularly fair towards a film that made me want to get off said transportation.

    There was a good very typically Mann gun battle at the start of the final act, but other than that, when I really thought about it, I couldn't find any redeeming features. Agree with everything you say but would probably have ended up going with a solitary star.

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    1. There were moments, particularly during the second half, where this almost slipped down to one star; but on reflection I felt it just about deserved two. The fact that Blackhat is strongly reminiscent of Miami Vice (which to this day still holds the dubious honour of being one of the worst films I've ever seen almost ten years on) in the end worked in its favour, as it's never quite as bad as the earlier film. That doesn't mean that Blackhat is a good film, though, something which my review certainly attests.

      All of this adds up to me usually giving Mann a very wide berth these days, as well as making me reluctant to revisit films such as Heat - which I've not seen for a very long time precisely because I'm afraid of spotting Mann-isms within it from his recent films that will potentially ruin it for me.

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