‘The Insider’ and ‘Collateral’ director Michael Mann tackles an unusually timely topic with his latest thriller: computer hacking. And he wants us to take it seriously, as ‘Blackhat’ begins with a series of those tired shots that cruise along wires and through flashing microchips until we see a nuclear reactor’s cooling fans go belly-up. The resulting disaster deserves its own Bond villain to cackle at the mayhem while stroking his cat.
But instead, Mann reverts to what he does best – ladling on the tech talk and creating the impression of something profoundly grown-up.
A ‘remote-access tool’ is suspected, and we’re off to an American prison, where a criminal programmer (Chris Hemsworth, looking more like a layabout than a guru) languishes in his cell. They need him to crack some code. And if ‘Thor’ star Hemsworth sometimes has to take off his shirt and please the Marvel fanbase, so be it.
Go ahead and call ‘Blackhat’ silly, but that’s missing the point. The movie is high-grade kids stuff, loaded with frantic keyboard poundings, an unlikely love affair (with Wei Tang) and shoot-outs in Asian markets. With this film Mann doesn’t tease out the unhinged performances he did from Al Pacino in ‘Heat’ and ‘The Insider’, but he’s back on familiar ground after the misfire of 2009’s ‘Public Enemies’.
Style is hardly a side dish with Mann – it’s the main course. No one captures city lights at night or luxury cars slinking down the highway like the creator of ‘Miami Vice’. Synthesisers twinkle, phones vibrate and Mann’s pioneering conversion to digital video continues to yield breathtaking results.