Who really wants to see a film involving subtitles and several Chinese actors? You should. Buy a ticket and hold me responsible.
Let me begin by saying that I have always been a big admirer of Director Michael Mann. As demonstrated by such old-fashioned films as The Last of the Mohicans (1993), Heat (1995), The Insider (1999) and Collateral (2004), his movies consistently take a viewer down cinematic streets rarely visited.
He does the same thing with his new release, Blackhat. Though far from a great film, it focuses on our interconnected high-tech world where a hacker causes a nuclear facility to explode in China. Gaining the support of the United States, a race is on to determine if this was a terrorist act or a distraction in pursuit of other deadly goals.
One of the reasons I liked the film was that it is filled with Chinese actors. It begins with Chen (Leehorm Wang), a Chinese military computer expert leading the investigation. In the process, he insists on adding an old American college pal, Nick Hathaway, to his team despite the fact that Nick is serving a 13-year sentence in a United States Federal Prison for cyber crimes. Though it may seem a bit absurd, our government reluctantly agrees to parole him with the commitment that his sentence will be commuted IF the unknown villain is captured.
Nick is played by Chris Hemsworth, who most of you will remember from either his memorable role as Thor or his superior performance as a legendary Formula One driver in Director Ron Howard’s Rush (2013). Though I must admit that Hemsworth’s character in Blackhat is consistently clothed in a style that will not offend young women (and yes, a few older women!), he nonetheless brings a bit of flash and style to a guy whose computer skills prove to be immensely helpful.
The film is also greatly helped with a cast including Viola Davis as the American Agent in charge of the operation and Wei Tang, who plays Chen’s sister who is equally skilled at computer technology. Ms. Davis is effective here in a small role, and a romantic relationship develops between Wei and Hemsworth that is far more sensual than what is normally seen on the screen. They are reluctant lovers, but there are times when Mother Nature simply needs to be told to shut up and get out of the way.
The film jumps from China to the U.S. to Malaysia, and Mr. Mann demonstrates his skill with an incredibly effective, pulsating musical score by Harry Gregson-Williams, Atticus Ross and Leopold Ross. It almost acts as a dialogue as tension mounts with unknown forces seeking to eliminate every member of Hemsworth’s team.
Every now and then a small film appears, floating silently under Hollywood’s radar screen. In a sense, this film reminds me of the equally overlooked Closed Circuit (2013), where Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall played British attorneys dueling with each other while defending an accused terrorist in London. Both films should have a cinematic tombstone that reads, “Long forgotten, but damn you were good.”