sat 20/07/2024

Blu-ray: Blackhat | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: Blackhat

Blu-ray: Blackhat

Chris Hemsworth-starring, bone-jarringly physical cyber-thriller

Run for your life: Chris Hemsworth as Nick Hathaway

The Boxing Day release of Michael Mann’s first feature in eight years, Ferrari, finally follows up Blackhat, a Chris Hemsworth-starring cyber-thriller dismissed on its 2015 release in a manner he hadn’t experienced since The Keep (1983). This two-disc, 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray Arrow release reveals many memorable virtues, alongside surprising inertia and superficiality.

Blackhat applies Mann’s great film intelligence and capacity for research to early cyber-crime, gleaning the apocalyptic consequences of malignant zeroes and ones. Rendering a keyboard transparent so he can shoot its hammering from below betrays a need to visually access an essentially invisible world. He begins by zooming down into the internet’s cables and heated circuits as a “blackhat” hacker infects a Hong Kong nuclear power station which boils over, Fukushima-style, followed by a fake run on soya futures which sends a freighter heaving back from its Rotterdam dock.

Blackhat Blu-ray sleeveThe Chinese Army responds by sending Captain Chen Dawai (Wang Leehom) and his network security engineer sister Chen Lien (Tang Wei, pictured below, centre with Hemsworth and Holt McCallany) to liaise with Carol Barrett (Viola Davis)’s FBI team. He also insists on freeing college pal turned hacker jailbird Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth), setting this thief to catch the phantom remaking the world.

Though Blackhat was digitally filmed, Mann’s insistence on globe-trotting location-shooting over CGI is of a piece with a film in which cyber-crime requires physical access to servers (at one point by dropping a truck on one), and resolution in bone-crunching conflict. Firefights blaze in a Hong Kong drainage system’s dark pools and booby-trapped, blind-turn tunnels, and on a bridge where the brutal body-count doesn’t spare our protagonists. The thunderous, heavy-duty gunshots and pulverising, no-quarter stand-offs of course echo Heat.

Blackhat is, though, closer to Mann’s Miami Vice (2006), with its dissolute sacrifice and romance in hot climes. A final set-piece in which Hathaway brings an array of kitchen knives to a gunfight, pushing against a torch-lit tide of red-garbed Balinese religious celebrants, sees Mann characteristically craft baroque excess with clinical control.Chris Hemsworth, Tang Wei and Holt McCallany in BlackhatBlackhat’s strength lies in the neon Hong Kong nightscapes and Malaysian mining wastelands caught by Mann’s gonzo thirst for lived cinema and jeweller’s eye for composition. Globetrotting like Bond, IT has rarely looked so glamorous. Mann’s current preference for hand-held camera jangle over his early work’s icy glide abrades the composite score’s cool ambience.

Morgan Davis Foehl’s script and Mann himself only skim the characters, though, not helped by Hemsworth’s dour star turn. Filmed after his playful hunk James Hunt in Rush (2013) but before his comedy coming out in Thor: Ragnarok (2017), he’s better at bulldozing bad guys than brooding and hacking. Viola Davis brings humane emotion to every minutely hesitant exertion of power in her small FBI role. Tang Wei, best known in the West now for her enigmatic femme fatale in Park Chan-Wook’s Decision to Leave (2022), similarly adds agency and depth to an underwritten love interest with every messy, unguarded facial tic. Like Madeleine Stowe in Last of the Mohicans (1992) and Ashley Judd in Heat (1995), she stands her ground in Mann’s macho territory.

Arrow’s two-disc release includes Mann’s rarely seen, superior Director’s Cut, which reorders a few scenes to significant effect without salvaging basic flaws. It now starts with the soya hack, sending prices flying on the empty, pre-dawn floor of the Chicago stock exchange, saving the more dramatic, radiation-blistering nuclear meltdown till midway. Mann also delays Hathaway’s entrance, rebalancing Blackhat from a Hemsworth vehicle back towards its Chinese stars. These shifts make Blackhat a curiously slow-burning thriller concerned with insider terminology and uncinematic crimes, only gradually attaining Mann’s expected violent velocity.Chris Hemsworth and Tang Wei in BlackhatNew extras include interviews with cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh and production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas. Dryburgh recalls Mann asking him to watch Hong Kong great Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love as they prepared to capture the territory’s “wet, misty streets”. “You might as well be in one of his films,” Dyas says, such was the adventurous realism; Mann rewrote in response to locations viewed with a Kubrickian photographer’s eye. Contemporary featurettes see Viola Davis musing on Mann the 20-take man (“After a while I liked it”) and Mann himself riffing on the “invisible web of interconnectedness” hitting what he calls the “kinetic” world.

Blackhat wasn’t even released in China, which its stars and setting seemed designed for, confirming this as the Mann that got away. It also continued a clear if incremental tailing off in his career’s second half, following his ‘90s peak with Last of the Mohicans’ viscerally romantic Americana, Heat’s novelistically rich pure cinema and The Insider’s business exposé as masterful, difficult character piece. Let’s hope he climbs again with Ferrari.

The thunderous, heavy-duty gunshots and pulverising, no-quarter stand-offs echo 'Heat'


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters