Blackhat Blu-ray Review: A Rare Miss For Michael Mann

A super hacker, or “blackhat” if you will, plants a computer virus in the Chicago Stock Exchange, causing soy prices to skyrocket. Since soy feeds most of the world’s livestock, this causes the price of beef, chicken, and other meat products to rise as well. This is what Michael Mann’s 2015 film Blackhat considers high-octane excitement. Later, there will be an attempt to manipulate the tin market.

Exciting stuff.

At one point the super hacker causes a nuclear power plant’s cooling pumps to stop which causes it to overheat and explode. But rather than give us some Chernobyl-style scenes involving the horrors or radiation, the film mostly uses it as an excuse to get Chris Hemsworth to wear a big, bulky plastic suit so he can stick a USB drive into the plant’s hard drives.


Now one could argue that Blackhat was aiming for realism. That real-life hacker/terrorists would manipulate the stock market or disrupt worldwide commodities to achieve their goals rather than causing airplanes to crash or kidnapping the President’s daughters. But making the price of soy jump up just doesn’t create the kind of cinematic excitement one might look for on a night out at the movies.

You’d think bringing in Chris Hemsworth to play the hero might add a bit of that excitement to it, or at least a little sex appeal, but I was too busy being annoyed about how this super-smart computer nerd was also as buff as Chris Hemsworth and able to rock a handgun like John Wick.

I’m being a bit too harsh. Michael Mann is too good of a director to make a really bad film and the cast (which includes Viola Davis and Holt McAllany) is too good to make it at least a little enjoyable. But this was a definite miss for me.

Hemsworth plays Nicholas Hathaway, a computer hacker doing time for using his skills to steal from a bunch of banks. He’s pulled out of prison by FBI Agent Carroll Barrett (Davis) at the request of Chinese military cyber-warfare guru Captain Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang). Turns out, he and Hathaway were old college buddies and they created the base code the Blackhat is using. Naturally, he’s the only one who can decipher the code and naturally, they have to let him out of prison (and traipse across the globe) to do just that.

In the film’s defense, the hacking actually looks real. I mean, I don’t know anything about hacking but these guys are at least staring at black screens filled with numbers instead of the fancy CGI graphics you usually see in this type of film. But that realism doesn’t last long as all of our law enforcement officers continually behave in the dumbest possible ways.

Despite Hathaway being so apparently dangerous that the prison guards force him to handcuff himself inside his cell and then lay on the ground so that no fewer than four officers have to pick him up and carry him out, once he’s outside the prison everyone treats him like a pal. He’s allowed to wander about by himself, is given access to open computers with an internet connection, and at least two people hand him their phone and don’t pay any attention to what he does with them.

Mann is as meticulous with his staging and camera work as ever. It looks terrific despite being shot solely on digital cameras. Mostly. There are a few scenes in which the director has intentionally given it a jumpy, handheld look or distorted the view in some way. On several occasions, he’s created a completely CGI view inside a computer demonstrating visually how the hacking might look. None of this worked for me at all.

There are a few quite good action sequences. Nothing as good as what he did in Heat, but they have a down-on-the-street, tactile feel to them that’s very interesting. Like I say, Mann is too good of a director to make a really bad movie, but the ridiculousness of the plot of this one ruined it for me.

Arrow Video presents Blackhat with three different cuts of the film – the original U.S. and International versions and for the first time on home video, the Director’s Cut. The latter deleted a couple of scenes and pieces of scenes, added in a few things, and moved the entire Nuclear Power Plan explosion scene from the beginning of the film to the middle.

Extras include audio commentary from critics Bryan Reesman and Max Evry, an interview with cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh, an interview with production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas, three archival making-of featurettes, and deleted scenes.

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Mat Brewster

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