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Blackhat: Michael Mann brings an informed cybercrime yarn to the silver screen

A decent, albeit stony-faced, thriller

By Brid-Aine Parnell, 22 Feb 2015

Film review You don’t expect much from a storyline that reads like a cyber remake of the cheesy classic The Rock – crime happens and only dastardly criminal taken out of lock-up by the Feds can stop it. But director Michael Mann has turned out a pretty decent thriller in Blackhat, even if it does take itself a little too seriously.

For a start, the movie doesn’t resort to cliched backstories and mannerisms for its nerdy hackers. Our cybercriminal blackhat hero Nick Hathaway is the hunky, chunky Chris Hemsworth, and not some pale, weedy eccentric. The Chinese Fed and Nick’s ex-MIT room-mate, Chen Dawai (Wang Leehorn), is an intelligent, loyal and competent officer who feels no need to reassure the Americans on the team that he doesn’t really believe in what his country does.

Even better, his sister and the third cyber-skilled member of the crack team, Chen Lien (Tang Wei), is neither a hyper-sexualised Asian fantasy hacker nor a “quirky”, annoying weirdo like those cyber technicians on US police procedurals always seem to be.

The film even comes up with a relatively solid reason why Nick, currently languishing in jail for cyber-stealing millions, has to be sprung to deal with the new threat – our bad guy is building on code that he and Dawai wrote at MIT. Throw in a couple of laconic Feds, played by Viola Davis and Holt McCallany, and we’re off on a worldwide chase for the new cyber kingpin, who’s already caused an explosion at a nuclear plant in China and made millions with a run on soy futures.

Blackhat doesn’t really get bogged down in the specifics of cybercrime, preferring slow-burning action to too much typing on keyboards. But it does use a nifty trick to let you know how much smarter the cyber heroes are than everyone else.

A police briefing describing that the bad guy got into systems using RAT trojans and then used malware to cover what he was doing is dismissed as “something an intern could have written” by Dawai – handily giving the audience a vague explanation while maintaining the air of genius around our three heroes.

And there’s a dose of reality in here as well – most of the hacks are into heavily secured systems, so they’re usually kicked off by some form of social engineering, not by tapping as rapidly as possible at a keyboard for a minute and a half, before “hey presto!” they’re in.

However, although showing actual kinds of cybercrime and dishing out realistic violent scenes make for a good film, Blackhat isn’t a great movie. Because it’s all just a little too heavy. Hemsworth has clearly been told to play it straight and he concentrates so hard on being serious, he seems to forget there are any other emotions.

Tang Wei and Wang Leehorn are a lot less wooden than the star, but a two-hour movie in which there isn’t a single joke is just too much. It makes the time drag and your interest drift, leaving you wishing it had wrapped up about a half hour before the end. ®

Title Blackhat
Director Michael Mann
Cast Viola Davis, Chris Hemsworth, Wang Leehorn, Holt McCallany, Tang Wei
Release date 20 February (UK) / 16 January (US)
More info Movie website

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