In light of the recent Sony hack attack and Apple iCloud hack, Michael Mann’s “Blackhat” seems like a perfect movie for cinephiles to delve into the deeper part of the cyber world. As we’ve previously mentioned in our fun facts post, it was the Stuxnet hack attack that prompted Mann to make a film about cyberterrorism.
But what does that have to do with us anyway?
Well, if you’ve seen the consequences of all the cyber hack attacks, you’d know that literally anyone could be the next victim of the “black hat” hackers. Because if they are smart enough to figure it out, they could manipulate everything from the stock prices to bank systems and even political agendas. The first lesson we gained from the film? Hackers are a dangerous bunch of people you wouldn’t want to hang out with OR they could be the ones you’d want to work with to go against hackers with even greater evil plans.
We can’t decide whether the visual or the storyline is more important in a film, but for Mann’s cyber-thriller film, the visuals were slightly better than the storyline itself. The opening sequence of the film is sort of an explanation of how a hack happens, giving us a detailed and hyperrealistic look at how the world was interconnected through the network. With help from technical advisors/former hackers, Mann has also shown us how a hacker could hack into a system with just a few simple taps on the keyboard.
The supporting cast got their brief introductions through 2 hack attacks that had happened in China and America. We were first introduced to Chinese cyberdefence expert Chen Dawai (played by the oh-so-charming actor, Wang Leehom), who was asked by his superiors to find out who were the hackers responsible for the meltdown of the Chinese nuclear plant. This immediately linked to the next hack attack in America, where a bug was deliberately put into the stock market that altered the price of soy future.
As a former MIT student, Chen flexed his mental muscles and immediately finds that the hacker(s) were using the coding he had previously written with his former programming partner, Nicholas Hathaway (played by “Thor” star Chris Hemsworth). This immediately limited the chances for the American government to hire any other hackers because only Hathaway, the head programmer, would know the flaws in the modified coding. Both Chen and FBI agent Carol Barrett (played by Viola Davis) needed Hathaway, and Hathaway was quick to “negotiate” with the Department of Justice if he were to become a rather useful government asset.
This reminded me of Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs”, where FBI agents represent agent Clarice Starling while Chen and Hathaway represent Dr.Hannibal Lecter. Barrett and her co-workers remained wary of Chen’s and Hathaway’s presence, especially when the two began to crack the modified code without Barret’s permission. By now, you should put away all stereotypes you’ve ever had about hackers because Hemsworth’s Hathaway isn’t your average geeky hacker. Perhaps the time he spent in the prison transformed Hathaway into a bulky computer genius (though not as bulky as Hemsworth’s Marvel character) with all the geek factors eliminated.
Chen brought his tech-savvy software engineer sister, Chen Lien (played by Tang Wei) along with him, just in case Hathaway needed some extra technical help or a woman beside him. The dialogues in the film sounded intelligent throughout because it did seem like the characters knew exactly what they’re talking about and what could happen next. The filming style is the classic Mann style, which Mann’s fans would be excited to see. He embraced digital filmmaking and shown us the beautiful cityscape with the help of his cinematographer, Stuart Dryburgh. Though it’s tiring to watch, I could pretend that some of the shaky sequences brought out the intensity of the film.
However, with a forced love line between Hathaway and Lien, the dialogues turned corny and I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes each time Mann ruined the film with the redundant love story. The most redundant part was when the characters flew all the way to Malaysia for one particular scene before they quickly moved on to Jakarta after figuring out what was going to happen next in just a few minutes.
The line between the blackhat hackers and whitehat hackers was drawn when Hathaway developed a sense of justice throughout the action-filled movie. Sometimes I would wonder if Hathaway had a hidden agenda when he agreed to help the American government. However, Hathaway had zilch interest in doing so and the only shocking part was when some of the supporting characters that had only appeared briefly in the film died in an intense gun battle.
Was there a political movement behind the hack attack? Are the hackers doing it for fun? That’s for you to find out when you watch the film.
Perhaps I was expecting to see more from Mann but I struggled to like this film because some parts of the story could have been handled better if Mann doesn’t shove it in the viewers’ faces. Seeing how this is a film made by Michael Mann, I must say, I may have set my expectations way too high for “Blackhat”.
I wish I could like the film but the disappointment is far greater than my prior expectations now. The fact that I found myself rolling my eyes at some sequences shows “Blackhat” is not going to be my favourite Mann’s film, even though the menacing antagonists, Violas Davis, and Wang Lee Hom made it worthwhile to stay. Now, excuse me but I’d like to watch Mann’s “Heat” or “Collateral” again to restore my faith in the visual-oriented director.
Slated for release on 16th Jan, “Blackhat” is a much anticipated film from Michael Mann but now, I’m not sure if this will qualify for the Oscars anymore.