In Michael Mann’s latest film Blackhat, we find ourselves exploring the world of modern cyber-crime. Audiences may end up comparing this movie to 2001’s Swordfish, even though this movie was slower paced, far less slick, but certainly more believable.
This story centers on Nick Hathaway, played by Chris Hemsworth. He is serving time for his past cyber-crimes when another “Blackhat” hacker (Yorick van Wagenignen) uses Hathaway’s old code to cause a terrorist style attack in China. Hathaway makes a deal with the U.S. Government for a full release with the promise that he would find the Blackhat.
Assisting Nick in his search is his former college roommate Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang), Chen’s sister Lien (Wei Tang), an FBI agent named Carol Barrett (Viola Davis), and a U.S. Marshal named Mark Jessup (Holt McCallany). The acting was strong across the board, despite having a rather forced romance in the film.
I’m sure many people would argue that Hemsworth was a poor casting choice for a supposed uber-hacker though. But this certainly was no worse than putting Hugh Jackman in a similar role. Yeah, when you think computer geek, images of those guys from The Big Bang Theory usually come to mind first, right? The film does explain why the beefier hero though.
[Warning, spoilers to follow]
The film hints that his time in prison is why he is now focused on his body as well as his mind. This is important to note about the character, because there are several points in the film where his prison experience will come into play again. Like when his fends off an attack inside a Korean restaurant. That fight just wouldn’t have played out correctly had a scrawny hacker been used. More importantly, it’s Nick’s prison knowledge that ultimately gets him through the climatic confrontation in Malaysia at the end of the film.
[End of spoilers]
I was really happy to find that Blackhat did not rely on the usual technobabble you find in hacker movies. We actually see security forensic techniques used in this film. We also get to see characters exploiting social engineering several times in the film as well. I haven’t seen this level of real hacking since War Games. And that’s way this movie was…so…darn…slow. Real life hacking is not exciting unfortunately.
This is probably why the filmmakers used some computer graphics to make the process look…well cool. We see all the electrons in the computer chip firing as the Blackhat initiated his payload against the infected targets. Those graphics and the exotic locales where probably my biggest wow moments in watching this film. I loved those night scenes. The city skylines along with the music from Atticus and Leo Ross (that simply oozed this nighttime bass vibe), gave this film a modern cyberpunk feel that I really liked.
The only technical issue I saw was the occasional scenes that looked out of place—like they reshot them with a Hi-Definition camera. The film was supposedly shot entirely in digital though, so those scenes may have been intentionally done this way. Or maybe someone slipped something into my popcorn. Who really knows?
But I give Blackhat a 2.75 out of 5.