I don’t understand how Blackhat exists in the form we’re seeing as it hits theaters. Director Michael Mann is a veteran director with about a dozen features to his name, including The Last of the Mohicans, Heat, The Insider, and Collateral. Yet somehow Blackhat is, from a purely a nuts-and-bolts technical perspective, one of the ugliest films I’ve seen in quite some time. I guess the good news is that it isn’t inhibiting much in the story/character space. Yep, this is a hot mess we’ve got on our hands.
Blackhat stars Chris Hemsworth as a world-class computer hacker who’s sprung from jail to help the government after a mysterious person or persons unknown attack first a nuclear reactor in China, then the U.S. stock market. He joins a task force featuring a partnership between a U.S.-educated Chinese cyber security expert and the U.S. Department of Defense, and the globetrotting chase for the perpetrator ensues.
Let’s start with the technical problems, because this is by far the oddest part of the whole film. I’m not sure if Mann was rushed, or if he tried to stretch a small budget too far, but I have to imagine something went horribly, horribly wrong in the process of making this movie because the visuals of Blackhat just aren’t very nice to look at. The movie frequently replicates (whether intentionally or unintentionally, it’s impossible to tell) the feel of a TV broadcast. Roughly a third of the film is shot in what looks to be a higher framerate than the rest of the picture. My best guess is that Mann is attempting to produce something with the immediacy of real life, but the effect is only something that looks cheap and is distracting. Blackhat‘s story needs camerawork that’s more cinematic and dramatic, not something that looks like it came from a microbudget B-movie. The ill-effects are exacerbated by Mann’s insistence on a free moving camera that doesn’t quite have the handheld feel of, say, a Paul Greengrass shot, but rather something that bobs about the scene drawing attention to itself without purpose. Once or twice, it feels like a tracking shot of epic proportions is being planned, but before long a cut makes sure that dream never comes to fruition.
The editing is another unwelcome curiosity, employing (for example) an abhorrently long look into the increasingly minute pieces of a computer, or three shots of the same transitional city flyover where one would do, but it’s nothing compared to the audio issues on display. Most of the film’s dialogue is ADR’d, which isn’t anything that unusual, but the abysmal quality of the sync, performance, and mix again point to a movie that was severely rushed or running overbudget. There’s a scene early on among some Chinese higher ups that looks completely out of sync, banking apparently on the hope that American audiences won’t be able to match Mandarin sounds with human lips, but it’s hardly the only example. Lines frequently sound stilted and very obviously recorded outside of the environment of the scene.
I desperately wish all these technical problems were merely scarring a quality narrative, the script by Morgan Davis Foehl is pretty paltry as well. The basic narrative does have some good bones, involving a get-rich-quick scheme through commodities manipulation on the stock market, but working hero Nick Hathaway (Hemsworth) and his government crew into that tale involves little more than a series of linear fetch quests devoid of meaningful character or thematic development. The most meaningful character arc ends up being a romance, one that’s forced on its participants by the script without any romantic preamble. Whip out your “Fall In Love Now” buttons, folks, because that’s what ends up making this story and its flimsy mechanical characters go.
The Verdict: 1 out of 5
Blackhat is a bore, and that would be true even if it was pretty to look at. As it is, we don’t even get technical chops that are up to industry baseline for a wide release picture. I’d love to hear the story about the making of Blackhat; seemingly rushed and underbudgeted at every turn, I bet it’s a doozy.