Hampered by its dull opening, Blackhat is nonetheless a fun, thrilling action flick.
Michael Mann, director of Heat (1995) and Collateral (2004), returns this year with cyber-espionage thriller Blackhat. The film delivers some absorbing, quality action towards its end, but only if you can sit through a less than gripping opening forty-five minutes.
Blackhat follows a team of American and Chinese security agents, led by Captain Chen Dawai (Wang Leehom) and ex-convict Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth), a hacker who is released from prison in exchange for his assistance. The team are trying to identify and track down a cyberterrorist who hacked into and destroyed a Chinese nuclear power plant and manipulated stock markets.
The film’s major flaw is its pacing – the first forty-five minutes or so are overly drawn-out, with various expository scenes taking much longer than they need to, combined with Mann repeatedly breaking up the plot with long, pointless establishing shots. There is an interesting visual representation of hacking at the very start of the film, but it doesn’t really serve any purpose, and further extends the opening. As well as this, there are sections of the film which look quite cheap and poorly made, seeming out of place amongst an otherwise polished production.
Despite its poor opening, Blackhat picks up remarkably around the halfway point, transforming itself into a gritty, thrilling ride. The action sequences are very stripped down, made with a kind of bare-necessities realism that makes them quite brutal and thoroughly enjoyable. The climactic scene in particular stands out, it is quick and adrenaline fuelled (the opposite of the film’s slow opening), with just enough violence to elicit a shock, but not so much that it feels gratuitous or gory.
Hemsworth’s acting fits perfectly with the tone of the film’s second half – similarly stripped down, efficient and simple. He gives a strong performance that bodes well for his career post-Marvel;at no point does he even slightly resemble his Norse alter-ego Thor here. Praise should also be given to Chinese actress Tang Wei, who plays opposite Hemsworth in a convincing romance, one which actually drives the plot rather than being bolted on as an afterthought.
Overall, Blackhat is a solid film. Had Mann been able to stretch its second half into a whole feature it would have been excellent, but unfortunately, it is hampered by a slow and clumsy first act. You won’t regret seeing it, but at the same time you shouldn’t go out of your way to do so.
Blackhat (2015), directed by Michael Mann, is distributed in the UK by Universal Pictures, Certificate 15.