I went into Blackhat more than aware that the reviews were tepid to say the least. In fact, most thought it an outright stinker. But Michael Mann has never failed to disappoint before; all he ever need do is pour his special sauce over shots of cities at night, and I’ve been satisfied. Hell, I even thought Miami Vice (the film) was pretty great. Well, it must be said that Blackhat is a very odd film. Mann goes out of his way to keep his sauce bottled, using shaky-cam “docu-style” video instead of Steadicam, and keeping the music, always one of his strong suits, to a bare minimum. Plus, the topic is not exactly his métier, and he definitely feels in old man mode when trying to juice up cyber espionage into something not only watchable, but even explicable. (The actual portrayal of the attacks, while not uninteresting, look like a cross between Tron and that sequence in Scanners where Cameron Vale mind-melds with a modem). The acting is very sedate to the point of clunkiness, and 45 minutes in, things were sagging. Not horribly so, but it just seemed that Mann was way out of his element and struggling, albeit mightily.
Then in the last hour, coincident with most of the digital detritus clearing away, good ol’ fashioned flesh and blood analog issues roared back, and the director was in his element. Call it existential bromance revenge if you must, that is the base alloy, but it is assuredly more than that. Yes, the last hour redeemed everything. Mr. Mann can still shoot action, and make it matter, like few others, and although the cyber-caper underpinnings kept poking through (“He’s using his $75 million to buy tin futures, the bastard!”), and although Chris Hemsworth is not up to the standards of a Colin Farrell, in the end, not even the random deaths of peaceful Indonesian festival-goers could undermine this one. No neon, not many cool electronic tones, and a style more ham-handed than assured, but still gripping and oh so worth it. Nobody has done to-the-death payback like Mr. Mann since Don Siegel.
In unrelated news, I also had a chance to see the trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey before the show. It is rated R for “some unusual behavior.”