Blackhat opens with exhilarating paranoia. The camera soars, impossibly, through a computer chip, where tiny lights flicker with an ominous trill. We are watching a hack that triggers the overheating of a nuclear plant in China and nullifies the warning signs. People die because of a series of numbers.
A similar but harmless breach is detected in the U.S, and FBI Agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis) is put on the case. She teams up with a Chinese agent, Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang), who makes a ballsy suggestion: the code used to hack the power plant was written years ago by Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth), a former classmate who is now incarcerated – release him in exchange for his assistance in catching the culprits.
It’s appropriate that much of the action unfolds in Asia, at its core is something akin to eastern philosophy. Nick Hathaway is a computer genius, a keen-eyed detective, fearless, close to invincible and almost bursts out of every shirt he wears. With all this good fortune, Karma dictates that everyone around him should drop like flies. In his first day of freedom, this unqualified oaf takes the lead in the investigation, viciously beats three individuals in a Korean restaurant, and beds Dawai’s sister, Lien (Wei Tang).
This is typical of a trend in character convergence. No longer can a hero be either strong, or clever, or brave, or attractive. They can’t even be two of these things because they have to be all of them at once. For this reason, Hemsworth’s wooden presence becomes interchangeable with Channing Tatum, Ryan Reynolds or Josh Duhamel. They would all be boring, humourless, and I would care about none of them.
If this was just a bad movie it would hardly matter, but there is some good work here. By the time Christopher Nolan scrappily turned Batman into Jason Bourne, director Michael Mann had already mastered the art of intensified continuity. He handles the hard-hitting, shaky-cam aesthetic with more grace and effortlessness than anyone else. The neon lights of Hong-Kong marry his style perfectly, and he is never afraid to take the action into devastating and surprising directions.
Even with all this frenetic camera-work, Mann knows it is also cinematic to slow down and watch someone think. Viola Davis, as Agent Barrett, has a lethal glare. You can see the frustrations bubbling in her brain then boil over with a line like: “Am I being tangible enough for you?” Why not give her a more central role to counter Hemsworth’s computer geek? She fights for collaboration with the Chinese agents, and then has more conflict with U.S authorities, who would put further lives at risk for political reasons.
Instead this interesting, qualified character is pushed aside so the focus can be on Nick Hathaway, a gamer’s macho fantasy. The convicted criminal – who, as soon as he is let out, is given a bulletproof vest, an automatic weapon and global jurisdiction – takes the final showdown to a crowded place where there will be more collateral damage. Even Hemsworth’s far-fetched character in Thor (2011) was better conceived; he grapples with a naïve bloodlust, jeopardising the peace and honour of his kingdom. Nick Hathaway has the same bloodlust, but in this movie he is commended.
Review Score: TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 133 minutes
Blackhat is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital from 14th May 2015