Saturday, 7 March 2015

Review: Blackhat

Year: 2015
Director: Micheal Mann
Screenplay: Morgan Davis Foehl
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tang Wei, Viola Davis, Holt McCallany, and Wang Leehom.

Synopsis is here

It’s happened again. A film comes out and makes no money. The reviews for it are pretty dreadful, and here I am, finding it to be it to be an enjoyable piece of entertainment. Garnering interest in things others had little time for. Finding excitement in areas where people saw none. Blackhat isn’t the strongest of Micheal Mann’s filmography. It’s not even the best in his latter digital photography phase, but I found much to enjoy in this film that the slightly garbled plot and blunt dialogue couldn’t really deter. Blackhat isn’t just timely, but utilises stakes in a way that certain espionage films aren’t bothered with.

It seemed one or two reviews were more preoccupied upon whether an attractive man such as Hemsworth could be a hacker than the films deeper and timely insights of globalised cops and criminals and the ease of new tech attacking capitalism from the inside. We may not be looking at the Deepweb, but the way Mann focuses this imagery on the comparative ease of short range Bluetooth exchanges, before expanding to the vast destruction of a nuclear station shot helps highlight just how easily we can be infiltrated. Jokes made about Mann’s Fincher-like swooping visuals of circuity (a la 1995’s Hackers) seemed to have just how deep inside the wiring Mann delves, how small the RAT (Remote Access Tool) is and how truly high such a small blinking light makes the stakes. When the plan of the antagonist and the material it looks to limit is revealed, I really don’t believe only I held on to my smart phone a little tighter.

As a film viewer who’s already in love with Mann’s visual style, I found myself adoring the films look. The use of space and form I found at times as exceptional. Mann gracefully moves from cramped, detailed intersections of computers and concerned faces to vast exotic landscapes under threat for nothing. While wide shots of huge, broken industrial structures show just how far the damage can range. Various shots and moments carry a weight to them that would simply not be featured in a film considered more bog standard. Mann adds to this with more of his trademark shootouts. All of which are still strikingly well staged, including a beautifully composed and brutally tense finale set during a recreation of Indonesia’s Balinese Nyepi Day festival, which is currently contending with the church sequence in The Kingsmen as the most notable action set piece of the year.  
The film's casting is not only solid, but varied and diverse. Hemsworth may not have the craggy, lived in look of James Caan (Thief), but he proves that he’s a neatly calculated choice as a leading man, who holds a similar, cool swagger to that of Colin Farrell in Miami Vice (2006). It’s easy to see the similarities between Hemsworth’s Nick Hathaway and his love interest Chen (Tang Wei), and the relationship forged in Miami Vice between Farrell’s Crockett and Isabella (Gong Li). Whether you’re interested in what occurs and how, may depend on your feelings on that previous relationship. Both Wei and Viola Davis both illustrate the kind agency that is so often missing in other films of this ilk.

Frustratingly, Blackhat’s lackluster box office performance, limited itself as a decent piece of counterprogramming at a time where 50 Shades of Grey demolished records, with its strong performance. The poor American box office is probably one of the reasons, we saw a reduced number of cinemas screening it. This combined with the film’s confused marketing, and dismissive reviews helped hide a film which holds far more resonance and smarts than people had expected. For me; Blackhat’s timely themes alone make it worth seeking out. When Mann then adds his beautiful visuals and striking action, it certainly made the 20 mile trip I had to make to see it even more worthwhile.