Something has gone terribly wrong at a nuclear reactor in Hong Kong, with the disaster being caused by a hacker breaking into the computer systems and shutting down the pumps. With fear rising that someone means to do serious harm around the world without ever leaving their computer terminal, the Chinese agree to team up with the FBI to take down the threat.
They also know part of the code that affected the reactor was written by a genius ‘blackhat’ (bad guy) hacker called Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth), who’s currently locked up for his computer crimes. He’s offered the chance of freedom if he helps track down the new threat. He agrees, which ends up re-teaming his with his old Chinese roommate. However, the further down the rabbit hole they go, the more dangerous things get.
Director Michael Mann has always had a rather operatic take on whatever material he’s handling, which has worked well with the likes of Heat and The Insider, but at other times has come across as completely overblown. While not a disaster, Blackhat is unfortunately more of the latter.
As with all Mann movies, it looks amazing, with a tremendous visual style and plenty of panache, but the amount of effort that’s gone into the style tends to highlight how little logic or drive there is to the plot. What should be a tense race to catch the bad guys often feels like a slow plod.
It’s not helped by Chris Hemsworth, who can be a very good actor but here presents Hathaway as such a dour, humourless presence he gets more than a little tiring. He can’t be entirely blamed though, as you can almost hear Mann screaming in his ear, ‘Be more taciturn!’ It is however a good audition for Hemsworth to show Christopher Nolan that he can be glum enough to be in one of his movies.
And while some of the action is good, it also feels over the top, despite not being that extreme by movie standards. I think the problem is that they were so worried a film about computers was going to be boring, they decided the way to remedy that was to have random Asian people popping up every so often and shooting everything in sight. However, it seems a bit daft, unnecessary and actually lessens the menace of a plot where the real fear is that someone can destroy lives from half a world away, just by clicking buttons.
As mentioned it does have a lot of style – which is certainly brought out in the Blu-ray – and that does help to paper over the fact that its substance is a pretty dull and standard thriller which often seems a bit silly and is far too serious for its own good.
Overall Verdict: Blackhat is essentially a straight-to-DVD style procedural thriller dressed up in more grandiose clothes. It’s passable, but it’s difficult not to feel that with a bit more heft and thought, this could have been brilliant rather than just about ok.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac