The 400-Word Review: Blackhat

By Sean Collier

January 20, 2015

Some people hack with computers, others with live bullets.

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While watching Blackhat, the catatonic thriller from director Michael Mann, one can almost hear the cast and crew checking out of the production as the film progresses.

There are hints early: a scene curiously doesn’t have the dialogue synced up properly. A jumpy edit signifies rushed post-production. By the climax, even the stars appear disinterested. A look at the credits reveals the assembled professionals all have significant resumes, so only one conclusion emerges: At a certain point, Forward Pass and Legendary Pictures just said, “The hell with it, it’s done. Release it in January.”

Chinese defense bigwig Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang) is called in after an unknown hacker causes a nuclear plant to blow. He can track the culprits, but he’ll need the help of his old college roommate, Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) — who’s currently doing 15 years for cybercrime in the States. After he picks up a love interest for Hathaway in the form of his sister, Lien (Wei Tang), he convinces the FBI to pardon Hathaway in exchange for help.

What follows is a globetrotting procedural that wouldn’t keep thumbs off the remote on a Tuesday night, much less maintain an audience’s interest over 133 minutes. (Yes, this clunker passes the two-hour mark.) Despite his mythical technical abilities, Hathaway’s shrewdest maneuver is to convince an NSA agent to send him his password in response to a phony email; you’ll note even the Nigerian princes have given up on that gambit.

Hathaway can, however, throw down in Bourne Identity-style slugfests that beg the question: when in a lifetime hunched over computers, followed by incarceration, did our hero find time to become an MMA fighter? And, for that matter, how many cyber-pranksters are able to send teams of hitmen around the Eastern hemisphere at a moment’s notice? Wait, now we’re thinking — and thus ruining the movie. Even more than its filmmakers did.


While Hemsworth proves that he’s impotent without his shiny hammer, Viola Davis manages a few decent scenes in a supporting role. And roughly one out of every four action sequences flirts with competence. But Blackhat is mostly as bland as it is stupid, and it seems that most of the production knew it — except for Mann, who hasn’t made a good film since 2004’s Collateral. And if he truly thought Blackhat was a project worth pursuing, I fear he may never direct a winner again.

My Rating: 2/10

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at



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