DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

BLACKHAT (director/writer: Michael Mann; screenwriter: Morgan Davis Foehl; cinematographer: Stuart Dryburgh; editors: Joe Walker, Stephen Rivkin, Jeremiah O’Driscoll, Mako Kamitsuna; music:  Harry Gregson-Williams, Atticus Ross, Leo Ross; cast: Chris Hemsworth (Nicholas Hathaway), Tang Wei (Chen Lien ), Viola Davis (Carol Barrett), Ritchie Coster (Elias Kassar), Holt McCallany (Mark Jessup), Yorick van Wageningen (Sadak), Wang Leehom (Chen Dawai); Runtime: 135; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Thomas Tull, Michael Mann, Jon Jashni; Legendary Pictures; 2015)

"It's Michael Mann good in flashes."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

A topical cyber-thriller that makes little sense but is superbly helmed as an action pic by Michael Mann ("Ali"/"Miami Vice"/"The Insider"). It's complexly written by Mann and Morgan Davis Foehl. The battle is between the good hacker (the white hat) versus the bad  hacker (he would wear a black hat in a Western). In this one, it takes not only guns and high tech genius to survive, but gamesmanship to ultimately win the battle.

The opening five minute animated shot sets up the save the world plot, as we view a computer worm called RAT (Remote Access Tool), doing its thing. This was the virus used in the 2010 cyber attack on the Iranian Natanz nuclear facility.

Capt. Chen Dawai (Wang Leehom) is the MIT-trained Chinese military person in charge of bringing down the cyber-terrorist, called Blackhat, who blew up a nuclear power plant in Hong Kong. Needing help, he wants to get on his team Nicholas Hathaway Hemsworth (Chris Hathaway), his noted hacker college roommate, whose hacking exploits got him a 15-year stretch in a federal prison. As a lark, when in college, Chen wrote part of the code for RAT, while Hathaway created it. It seems some unknown hacker refined it and stole $74 million from the Chicago Mercantile Trade Exchange over soy trades. Since both China and America are threatened by this unknown international blackhat hacker, who is so dangerous that he could bring both countries to their knees, the rival countries strike a deal to work together in stopping him. The FBI's Carol Barrett (Viola Davis) works hard to release the incarcerated Hathaway to help the good guys catch the bad guys. If he does so, he gets a full pardon. If he fails, it's back to the slammer.

Romance is thrown into the mix when the ankle bracelet wearing Hathaway and the captain's hot network engineer sister Chen Lien (Tang Wei ) get it on, while chasing after the blackhat around the world in such exotic spots as Hong Kong, Malaysia and Jakarta. Surprisingly there's little computer action but major standard-issue gun fights and car chases throughout, and plenty of lovable and unlovable characters dying. The villains are all one-dimensional and undeveloped characters, while the good guys get some screen time so that we know a little about them and thereby can show some concern when they go down (granted not much concern).

What the film does best is tell us in a respectable James Bond entertaining unrealistic way how
21st-century warfare will differ from previous wars, how vulnerable we are in our reliance on computers, how uptight the NSA agency can be and the moral complexities involved in this new high-tech age. It does so by shooting a film that satisfies with its action sequences, its computer savvy about dealing with malware, its tremendous Stuart Dryburgh photography and the way it incredulously transforms computer nerds into action heroes. It's Michael Mann good in flashes, which is good enough to hold the pic together for Mann's hybrid approach of blending together the arcane with the commercial.

Ritchie Coster, in a supporting role as the heavy, shines as the bag man for Blackhat, giving off chilling vibes as a cold-blooded murderer.

REVIEWED ON 12/31/2015       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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