Michael Mann is amongst my favorite film directors, so I’m still trying to grasp why “Blackhat” was such a huge box office bomb. Usually, Mann is able to find just the right mix of commercialism and artistry, to make his work a hit with either the critics, at the ticket line–or both. 2009’s “Public Enemies”, and “Collateral” from 2004, are two of Mann’s top dogs, and casting Johnny Depp in the former and Tom Cruise in the latter certainly helped their appeal, of course. 1992’s “The Last of the Mohicans” is probably the director’s masterpiece and his biggest domestic smash–that one starred Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis (1 Best Actor trophy at the time…3 now). So, was it the lack of a big name for “Blackhat”? I mean, Chris Hemsworth is Thor–but what else? Maybe it was the six-year layoff? Was Mann a bit rusty? “Blackhat” does have a shaky opening act. But it strengthens nicely in its middle section, and I’m thinking this may find an audience on home video. It’s there now–so we’ll see.
Nicholas Hathaway (an acceptable, but far from exceptional, Mr. Hemsworth) is a computer hacker serving a prison sentence for a major cyber crime. When a hacker causes a disaster at a nuclear plant in Hong Kong, Hathaway is offered a furlough to help catch the perpetrator. Under the watchful eye of FBI Agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis…unsurprisingly, the strongest performance in the movie), and teamed with military officer Captain Chen Dawai (a fine Leehom Wang), and his network engineer sister, Chen Lien ( a quite good, Tang Wei), Hathaway negotiates a full release for himself if the mission is successful. But danger lurks, and surprises abound, and soon all involved battle to escape death, as the computer and cash trail lead them into some quite nefarious places.
There are some expertly staged gun battles in “Blackhat”, and that’s a trademark of the director, who’s arguably best known for his iconic 1980s’ television show, “Miami Vice” (btw, Mann’s 2006 theatrical reboot of that series is vastly underrated–it’s marvelous). Plus, Mann’s work always oozes plenty of style–and “Blackhat” is no exception. Also, the Hong Kong locations are absolutely gorgeous–as is the delectable Ms. Wei. Yes, the screenplay does take a little time to get going, and the finale is a bit too convenient, but I’m thinking the admiration level for “Blackhat” will improve over time. Michael Mann may have lost half a step with this one, and he needed a more reliable star, but overall “Blackhat” is still pretty darn good. It deserved more respect.