Blackhat Blu-ray Review

Michael Mann’s soggy two-hour ode to the internet at its worst

The NSA has high-level employees dumb enough to open email attachments in order to change their password. This is amongst the dumbest of actions in a dumb movie with dumb people and plenty of dumb stuff. It’s all dumb. Blackhat spits up staid internet jargon in a frenzy – ISP, PLC, Firewalls; television crime dramas would be proud. Most of those probably involve opening email attachments too.

If Blackhat is taking a shot at the NSA by making them appear incompetent, so be it but these scenes are too short for effective commentary. Much of Blackhat is engaged with making online infrastructure seem broken; those using it to spy on everyone are the least of the world’s problems when nuclear power plants are being sacked by a rogue hacker.

Yes, this movie is relevant. So is anything calling upon on the sensitivity of the internet. NBC and CBS sling these stories around in prime time with frequency. Blackhat is doing little with the concept though, other than spreading its visual wings into inventive locations. Many of these landmarks have never appeared on movie screens prior, aided by Michael Mann’s loose camera work. The events those classy locales host ultimately restrict this Mann faux-thriller.

These are the disaster movies of today – not earthquakes, floods, or tornadoes.

Blackhat becomes another contemporary cyber-terror movie, swarming itself with predictable tropes and illogically stylized moments of action (with the gall to casually drag the events of 9/11 into the fear mongering spiel). These are the disaster movies of today – not earthquakes, floods, or tornadoes. Rather, they concern people clicking keyboards and exchanging dialog while dollars are funneled into untraceable bank accounts. Economic collapse is more real than a skyscraper collapse.

Story work follows a flow chart of predictable anti-hero cinema. Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth), released from prison under the guidance of the US government, pairs with Chinese liaisons (Leehom Wang, Wei Tang) to electronically chase a cypher. Such a routine narrative could be spun through in an hour, yet Blackhat is decorated with extended firefights which turn keyboard jockey Hathaway into a Navy Seal-esque trained powerhouse. An underdeveloped, instant-on romance further sours the establishment of credibility – as if Blackhat has much to begin with.

If Blackhat builds to anything, it is not a reprimand for our society’s reliance on LCD screens and mouse clicks. Instead, Blackhat is adamant about the cruelty of money and such a system’s inevitable corruption. Maybe this film would be onto something were its (mostly) unseen villain not an inefficient kook who believes detonating a reactor core would generate less attention than flooding a tin mine.

But that’s how Blackhat rolls and thus dies.

Movie ★★☆☆☆ 

Phone stuff @ 1:50:25

Mann shoots his first all-digital film and while the cinematography is often exquisite, the buzzing, noisy layer over those images is not. Captured on a multitude of digital cameras, from Arri’s line to consumer grade GoPros, Blackhat simultaneously looks expensive and cheap. Location shoots are rich. Digital results? Those wrongly appear on a budget. Mann’s Public Enemies suffered similar consequences.

The intangibles are fine. Credit is due for the limited visible color grading, generally poking at the film with traces of teal during nighttime scenes. Color and the general saturation is quite pleasing, strong in primaries, accurate in capturing flesh tones. A hint of orange skin is not particularly egregious. Various Asian locales bring about a slew of neon signs, all adding to the scenery’s brightness.

And black levels, while somewhat imperfect, still add some dazzling depth. Shadows are slightly a victim of crush however marginal. Nighttime action scenarios are well managed, and a fairly significant chunk of Blackhat takes place at night. Plus, while noise tends to rise in the dark, black levels can conceal a majority.

Captured details provides Blackhat with plentiful opportunity to impress. Close-ups are thick in definition when focus is high, although said focus does stylistically wander frequently. Cityscapes (and there are a slew of them) all appear rich in fidelity. This remains true through to the finale.

Video ★★★★☆ 

What a spectacular, natural soundscape Blackhat builds. Outside of its routine, throbbing electronic score, the use of available channels to constantly surround with audio is impressive. In prison, Hathaway is enveloped by noisy cells and clanking metal. Every channel remains active. The spread is superb. Chinese streets are alive with activity, especially marketplaces.

For action, there are a multitude of events, each of them carrying into the soundfield in unique ways. An underground shoot-out is heavy on long echoes. Once into an exterior setting, things settle down. The pop from each round turns more disincentive and aggressive, more directional too. The sense of space is engrossing.

Where the disc falls is dialog. It feels unfinished. ADR lines are obvious and frequent. Some lines are captured live on set without touch up to hide background noise. Volume can jump mid-sentence. A few explosions, with heavy LFE, almost even out this DTS-HD mix.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

The Cyber Threat, a 13-minute opening featurette, details the potential reality depicted in Blackhat, with Mann and other important players speaking on the topic. For something a little more generic, Creating Reality steps in, focusing on research and character development. There is more here than in the film. On Location Around the World is the disc’s final offering, detailing the shoot’s many worldwide regions.

Extras ★★☆☆☆ 

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.