Sunday 8 March 2015

Blackhat by Foehl and Mann

Blackhat is vanishing from your cineplex screens even as I write these words, after a very brief run. Which is a criminal shame, because it's Michael Mann's best picture in years and a strong return to form. 

It tells the story of a series of dangerous cyber strikes (performed by the Blackhat of the title) and the race against time to thwart them.

The first attack is on a Chinese nuclear power station and it's a powerful and suspenseful sequence, with Mann's virtual camera diving into the innards of the computer system and showing us the microscopic details of the hacking — electrons scuttling along chip pathways like rats under the floorboards.

With the power station reduced to a radioactive no-go zone, Chinese security officer Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang) is tasked to find the culprit. 

Dawai is a computer expert and he recognises the RAT (remote access tool) used by the hackers as being based on one written by his old friend Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth — also known as Thor or James Hunt, depending on which movie you saw last). Hathaway is cooling his heels in prison on a long sentence for his own cyber crimes, but Dawai gets him sprung.

Also along for the ride are Dawai's sister Chen Lien (Wei Tang), who is a computer expert in her own right and begins to fall for bad boy Hathaway. Keeping an eye on them all is Viola Davis as the lead FBI agent Carol Barrett.

Brother and sister Lien and Dawai were both raised in the States, so I initially found it annoying that they had such different accents, and so disparate a command of English. 

But Wei Tang is such a splendid, affecting actress that my objections soon dropped away. It's an admirably strong cast, and includes the impressive Yorick van Wageningen (the rapist social worker from Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), who is a perfect choice for the chief badguy — the eponymous black hat.

With an excellent script written by Morgan Davis Foehl (his first movie credit), Blackhat has great characters, fascinating locations and impressive action sequences, both virtual footage inside computers and brilliantly filmed real-world shoot outs. It delivers on suspense and surprises and deserves to be a much greater success.

Catch this film on the big screen if you can. If not, put it on your list for home viewing.
(Image credits: Remarkably thin pickings for this movie at the usual sites, which I suppose is an index of its lack of blockbuster success. The poster is from Imp Awards. The other images are all from the very useful Collider.)

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