As news of cyber-terrorism has become more prominent in public eye following the Sony hacking scandal, the timing of Michael Mann’s 11th (13th if you count his 2 TV films) feature-length film, Blackhat, could not be more perfect. The film revolves around a cyber-terrorist attack on a Chinese nuclear power plant. Leading the investigation for the Chinese government is Captain Chen Dawai (Wang Leehom) who, along with his sister Lien (Tang Wei) and two FBI agents, seeks out the help of his old college roommate, and notorious hacker, Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth). Granted a temporary release from prison, Hathaway must race against the clock in order to uncover who is behind the attacks before they strike again.

The film plays into modern fears of the faceless enemies of the world who use their laptops as weapons. While the tone of Morgan Davis Foehl’s screenplay adequately displays the potential global dangers at stake, things get even more complex for the reluctant hero when Hathaway uncovers who is truly behind the events.

Unfortunately, there are also elements to Foehl’s script that simply do not gel well with the film. Among them is the awkward romantic relationship between Hathaway and Lien. While Hemsworth and Tang do have some chemistry, their love story often feels like it belongs in a different movie. Another issue with the script is that the villains are not fully realized characters nor are their motivations that compelling.

Mann’s direction manages to generate several gripping moments that provide an air of suspense to the action sequences. Through the use of hand-held cameras he gives the globe-trotting film a chaotic and urgent feel. It also allows him to capture some beautiful compositions in places like Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Jakarta, and Kuala Lampur in Malaysia. While its digital photography, courtesy of cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh, won’t be for everyone, thanks in part to the occasional blurry and grainy textures, it does play into the sense of dread that flows throughout the film.

While Blackhat has several technical strengths, including strong editing and a pulsing electronic score by Atticus and Leopold Ross that features some orchestral contributions from Harry Gregson-Williams, it is the film’s cast that is key to its success. Blackhat features brilliant supporting turns from Viola Davis and Holt McCallany as no nonsense FBI agents. Davis, in particular, manages to steal the show via her inherent distrust of Hemsworth’s character. Wang Leehom and Tang Wei also provide solid performances as siblings aiding the Americans in the war on terror. However, it is Chris Hemsworth who is the true linchpin of the film. He evokes a real sense of weariness and depth to his character’s plight.

Blackhat adequately plays into the paranoia of a world so reliant on technology that it has made itself vulnerable as a result. Michael Mann generates both excitement and dread by utilizing real-life events to enhance the drama unfolding on-screen. Though Blackhat has it flaws, notably the script’s shortcomings, the film is still an engaging thriller worth a look.

© thevoid99 2015