Hacking has never been more prevalent than now in today’s digital age. From the recent Sony Pictures hack to frequent DDoS attacks of popular web services, a film about hacking couldn’t be more timely. It’s unfortunate that said film happens to be Blackhat, a disastrous mainstream attempt at turning the subject into a another subpar action flick.
Chris Hemsworth stars as Nicholas Hathaway, a dashingly handsome hacker who has spent the past few years in prison working out and giving other prisoners extra commissary money by inputting a little code in his cellphone. He is subsequently released into custody of the FBI after it is determined that a cyber criminal has caused an explosion at a nuclear power plant in China and swindled millions manipulating the New York Stock Exchange with a modified version of code Hathaway helped develop in college. Now he’s forced to either catch this fellow hacker and exonerate his sentence or fail and be sent back to prison.
Blackhat’s depiction of hacking revolves around zooming in on a microscopic level to the wires and blinking lights of a computer as code is transferred across the internet, and the furious sounds of keyboard typing. Apparently the harder you press the keys the more skilled a hacker you are. Hemsworth’s character is a glorified action hero who just so happens to be a hacker, although the film barely shows off this apparent skill. With the help of the Chinese government in the form of his former coder roommate, agent Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang), he will follow the trail of clue left behind in the data to uncover a bigger conspiracy to cause global chaos. Things are further complicated when a romance blossoms between Hathaway and Chen’s sister Lien (Wei Tang), who is helping out because apparently Chen needs someone he can trust on his team and she’s the only one who fits the profile. Who knew hackers from prison could turn into James Bond so quickly?
As bland as Blackhat’s story is, the film’s cinematography is far worse. Director Michael Mann has created some of the best action pieces in film previously, but here it’s almost as if he forgot what they should look like. The camera is constantly moving so you never get a clear shot of what’s going on, with many scenes being constantly out of focus. There’s a gritty feel to the film, but instead of giving it atmosphere it make it look cheap.
At one point Hathaway has this big confrontation with the man he’s looking for out in this public area where a parade is happening. What’s supposed to be the climax of the film ends up it’s biggest joke as there are random people darting in and out of the camera as if nothing is going on. Even when gunshots start going off there’s still a constant stream of people running through the middle of the action. It’s so chaotic that it’s practically impossible to focus on the main characters and completely takes you out of the scene.
The film is pretty much like this for the entirely of its two hour runtime, which is far longer than it ever needed to be. What could have been a smart and timely hacking movie is nothing more than an empty action flick with no direction. It wouldn’t a surpise if Blackhat ends up being the black sheep of Mann’s career.