Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Review: Blackhat

When you think of director Michael Mann, you think of gritty films with raw grainy visuals that not only ooze machismo and bravado, but also pay a healthy amount of respect for each film’s respective cityscapes.   Heat, The Insider, Ali, Collateral, Miami Vice – each boasts Mann’s signature film making style, and - with the exception to Miami Vice - each of these films is quite good.  From cops-and-robbers, to tobacco industry whistle blowers, to the Heavyweight Champion of the World, Mann sandpapers that glossy Hollywood sheen off the silver screen to welcome the viewer into a world that feels like it could exist right outside the cinema doors.

Thus, the prospects of teaming Michael Mann with Chris Hemsworth (Thor, Rush) and Viola Davis (The Help, Suicide Squad) seemed to promise a worthy new addition to his mostly impressive resume.  But like so many no brainer pairings and can’t miss prospective projects, Blackhat falls incredibly short of those expectations.  It’s always easy to point to any one or two specific reasons as to why a film fails (as I am going to do shortly), but ultimately, I think the problems that plague this film are more the result of an extensive series of choices and missteps - resulting in a film that can best be described as one that feels like an amateurish attempt to make a cheap knock-off of a Michael Mann movie.

Piece one of the blame pie has to go to the writing.  I am always quick to say that writers are underrated and are the backbone of any great movie.  Thus, when things go awry, I have to place culpability upon the screenwriter.   Morgan Davis Foehl’s script feels like he spent a weekend binge watching a bunch of espionage/action movies and then picked out his favorite elements and mashed them into one script.  The result is a narrative that is an unsightly amalgamation of mismatched parts – a la Frankenstein.  Computer hacking, gunfights, explosive devices, stock market manipulation – it’s all in there, but sadly the one key ingredient to this jambalaya of plot mechanisms is missing – namely cohesion.

The second biggest problem with this movie is the casting.  Chris Hemsworth is a good actor with more range than one would initially think after watching Thor, but Blackhat requires the actor to play a role he simply does not fit into – that of a tech junky world-class hacker.  Because Hemsworth very much has the look of the Norse God he plays in the Marvel cinematic universe, it is an incredible stretch to sell him to the public as this mad genius of a hacker who does most of his work with fingers on keyboards.  That his character is also able to take on militant global terrorist with guns and fists alike in the second and third act serves as the crippling blow to the credibility of his performance and the plot of the film.  It’s the proverbial moment when you realize that this movie is nothing more than a creative team throwing everything against a wall and seeing what sticks.  And just to be clear, what sticks in this film, absolutely stinks.

What do I say about the performance of Viola Davis, Wei Tang (as love interest Chen Lien), or anyone else in the movie?  Two words – who cares.  No one in this film really matters.  Any danger they encounter, any turmoil they experience, any pain that they feels, it all feels so inconsequential.  Not a single performance is compelling enough to make the viewer feel empathy, sympathy or any other “-athy” towards anyone in the movie.  And that’s catastrophically problematic when you are in the business of storytelling.

These problems along with so many other smaller ones add up to a film that will go into the vault of forgotten movies only to be resurrected as a 5 second clip buried in a montage of other movie clips should Mann’s or Hemsworth’s respective careers ever get the lifetime achievement treatment.  So do yourself a favor and take a pass on this one - No OnDemand, no Netflix, no Red Box, no iTunes, no nothing.  There are so many mediocre action movies in the marketplace that are at the very least moderately entertaining, that this movie should never have to make its way onto your screen of choice.


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