blackhat-hackingMichael Mann can be a polarizing director. He is regarded by many as a film maker of great scope and invention. There are others who are turned off by his body of work, especially some of his recent efforts which have very specific stylistic methods employed. My view is that he must be doing something right as he consistently works with the biggest names in Hollywood today.

An explosion at a Chinese nuclear plant is found to be the work of a hacker who remotely altered the main controls resulting in tragedy. Soon after, the US stock exchange IT system is hit by the same source. The Chinese and US governments join forces to try to find the people behind the incidents and work out their future intentions. In custody in the US is Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth), the original architect of the code used in the attacks. He gets a temporary release from jail to aid the assembled team. His remit is to stop the next incident before it causes any harm.

The first thing to note is that this film looks stunning. For most of his recent films Mann has specialised in the use of HD cameras which give a grainy, natural light feel to the action. It is particularly effective in night shots where the grain of the darkness is contrasted with the almost ethereal glow of the street lighting. The effect lends a great deal of atmosphere to the scenes.

BlackhatIf only the story could rise to the level of the visuals. The script is a bit clunky and seems to veer all over the place. The story itself is fairly straightforward and once you know what is going on there is no need for the exposition to continue.

None of the script issues are the fault of the actors (unless they had a hand in rewrites of course). Hemsworth, Leehom Wang and Wei Tang are all solid. They try their best with the material but it just fails to engage the audience at all. In the end they are just going through the motions, delivering lines with little or no conviction.

The story itself is interesting if not wholly original. The problem, as with many high tech thrillers, is in trying to covey excitement and danger on screen when you are looking at a person typing into a laptop with an intense frown on their face. It’s worse when it’s two people sitting across from each other having a conversation and typing at the same time. There is no tension in such a scene. One way Mann tries to engage the audiences during these scenes is in the use of graphics. We get a representation of how the commands are transmitted from the user to the sever in the form of lights travelling down electronic pathways. You can see what he was trying to achieve with this but it ended up looking like a cut scene from Tron.

To compensate for the keyboard scenes it was necessary to introduce an action element to the film. This involves travel to China, chase sequences and gunfights. Fight sequences are one of Michael Mann’s specialities and he handles them as well as ever. It doesn’t hurt that Chris Hemsworth knows his way around and action film and as ever he is very watchable.

Overall, a visually brilliant film that is let down by a very average script.

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