Contains possible spoilers
Cyber thrillers can fall flat if they slip into the realms of cliche, but thankfully Blackhat gets the cardinal sin out the way early: assorted close up tracking shots of data transfer through chips and microscopic tech landscapes.
Chris Hemsworth is terrific as Nicholas Hathaway, the ace hacker released from prison to help the US government find the villain responsible for a nuclear power plant meltdown in Hong Kong.
Chicago’s Mercantile Trade Exchange is also hacked, causing soy futures to soar. Okay, less urgent but relevant to the plot, which was reminiscent of 007 epic A View To A Kill.
With the aid of Nicholas’s old mate, Captain Chen Dawai, a military officer in China’s cyber warfare unit, and his sister Lien, they set off with Hathaway to find their man.
Hathaway is the world’s least likely hacker seeing as he looks like a Norse god, but it scarcely matters; viewers will be just itching for the moment he beats up a bunch of assailants in a restaurant.
The first act is nothing special as director Michael Mann sets out his stall and lets his tale unfold.
Viola Davis is terrific as FBI Agent Carol Barrett, the figure of authority keeping an eye on Hathaway and slowly developing respect for him. (There’s a back story about 9/11 shoehorned in to give her a little depth, but she does rather well in a generic role).
Tang Wei, who plays our hero’s love interest, is good not great. I’d have preferred Maggie Q or Gong Li in the role, but she looks nice, while the action scenes are okay.
A shootout at a dockside dragged on a bit, but thankfully not as long as the one in Michael Mann’s Heat.
That’s the last time I sat through a Mann movie at the cinema, 20 years ago, and given his hit-and-miss output, I’ve not been desperate to soak up his big screen output.
(For me he peaked with 1992’s The Last of the Mohicans, but this is possibly his best work since then).
It’s not perfect. There was some confusion over a character’s death in the second act, possibly intentional, and an incendiary scene was framed like many exploding car shots: long shot, characters on the left, vehicle on the right. Boom. Textbook.
Just once I’d like to see a car explode behind characters, instead of it being framed to capture the hard work of the pyro experts.
There’s also a scene when Hathaway makes his way through a procession with gun drawn, and nobody bats an eyelid. Personally I’d have run a mile.
Blackhat is not the best thriller of the past 12 months, but it ticks over nicely and sustains the interest. However, without Hemsworth dominating every scene, it would have been a weak rejig of Swordfish.