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Movie Review: Blackhat Is A Disappointment That Can’t “Hack” It At the Box Office.


January 20, 2015

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“This is our world now… the world of the electron and the switch, the beauty of the baud. We make use of the service already existing without paying for what could be dirt-cheap if it wasn’t run by profiteering gluttons, and you call us criminals.”
The Mentor (a.k.a. Loyd Blankenship) from The Hacker’s Manifesto

Cyber crimes are becoming a greater threat, in a world where technology has become evermore present in people’s lives. Hackers with an agenda can be a nuisance, but those without motives could prove to be even more dangerous.

At a nuclear facility in China, a reactor’s cooling pump suffers catastrophic failure. The system does not go on alert as the rising temperatures cause the reactor to go critical and cause an explosion.

During a day’s trading at the Chicago mercantile exchange, soybean futures begin to soar to incredibly high levels as somebody remotely tampers with the price. The only common link is that a hacker has utilized a backdoor to compromise both their respective computer systems.

The Chinese government and the FBI launch a joint investigation to find the source of the attack. One of China’s lead investigators recognizes a familiar component in the hacker’s repertoire, since he was one of two people responsible for designing it.

This investigator suggests that the best way of tracking the culprit down is by obtaining the services of the other person responsible for developing the backdoor that the hacker utilized in the attacks, a convicted cyber criminal named Nick Hathaway. Serving a 15-year sentence for his crimes, Hathaway is released to assist in finding and eliminating the source of these attacks before more catastrophic events occur.

This movie can be best described as an unfortunate example of unrealized potential. The story is somewhat convoluted, and at times moves too slowly for its own good. For a movie based on subject matter that is so overwhelmingly relevant today, I expected something more profound or at least more interesting.

Morgan Davis Foehl wrote a very thin story consisting of two main events acting as a catalyst building up to a rather unsatisfying endgame. The dialogue was not especially well written, and at times seemed awkward and forced. There’s also the randomly emerging romance between Chris Hemsworth and Tang Wei’s characters, which is something of a cliché and does nothing to effectively advance the narrative.

I do appreciate the attention to detail that went into researching the proper technical jargon like RAT, which stands for remote access trojan. However, most of the audiences are going to consist of laypeople, who will likely not remember said jargon after the credits roll. At a certain point, watching people sitting at a terminal while typing…I mean simulating the act of hacking, becomes tedious. If I wanted to watch that I would sit in, at a local college computer lab.

I think the story would have been better with a few more “hacking events”, perpetrated by the antagonist, added to serve as smoke and mirrors in an attempt to shake the investigators off his track. This could have helped pick up the sometimes painfully slow pacing of the movie, and possibly create a more compelling story. After all, the movie is about crimes committed by a rogue hacker…right?

Being that it is a Michael Mann film, you do still get some proper action sequences. During one, Hathaway has slipped away from his handlers and goes to a Korean restaurant, where he anticipates meeting and possibly catching the hacker. Instead he gets into a fracas with some thugs that the hacker hired, and hands them a beating before slipping away unharmed.

During a shootout, Hathaway runs haphazardly into the fray, risking life and limb as bad guys launch an assault with automatic weapons. One would think Hathaway’s FBI handler would have a tighter leash on him, because if he ends up dead – the investigation is over. Of course I guess a rumble, just ain’t a rumble without Hemsworth in the mix.

I’m not prepared to blame the cast for the mediocrity of this movie. Hemsworth, Viola Davis, and their supporting cast were much better than the material they had to work with. So it’s not that they failed the audience, it’s that the Foehl failed the cast with his writing.

Hemsworth seemed out-of-place from the very beginning. As intelligent as his character is supposed to be, it wasn’t really reflected in the dialogue. But I guess if you want to make a movie about hacking and cyber crime to look sexy – your main concern is casting a hunky lead actor, decent dialogue is a secondary concern.

I honestly think Hemsworth had the chops to pull off a more thoughtful performance if the part had actually been written better. So to quote Tony Stark,” No hard feelings Point Break, you’ve got a mean swing”

Davis’ was horribly, horribly, horribly underutilized, and some of her dialogue was exaggerated and cliché. She’s an actress who can use subtlety to her advantage in a role, but that’s beside the point. As Agent Carol Barrett, Hathaway’s FBI handler, Davis had less screen time than she deserved.

Leehom Wang, as Chen Dawai, would have benefited from more screen time as well. Of course if the random romantic element between his on-screen sister and his old college pal Hathaway hadn’t figured so prominently (or at all for that matter), he and Davis probably both would have had larger roles.

Chen Lien was basically an extraneous character, inserted to create a meaningless romantic side plot. Still, the exposure Wei receives for appearing in this role will probably get her more consideration for future roles in American films.

Yorick van Wageningen played the villainous “hacker”, but had very little screen time when compared to his hired gun Kassar, who was played by Richie Coster. Foehl probably thought it made the main villain seem more mysterious, but to me he just became insignificant.

The look of the movie was, for the most part, aesthetically unappealing. Even if the movie takes place in some exotic locales, the cinematography and editing were a detriment to the overall appearance. The camera was often shaky, and it looked as if somebody was using their camera phone to shoot a YouTube video.

With any kind of increase in action, the camera movements would become even more chaotic and off kilter. So for those of you who had motion sickness from watching Blair Witch, you may want to bring some Dramamine.

It’s no surprise that this movie fared poorly at the box office over the weekend, finishing 11th at the box office with a meager $3.8 million. Blackhat was facing off with the likes of American Sniper, which was coming out of limited release during the same week it was nominated for six Academy Awards.

The fact that this cyber thriller is not really very thrilling means Blackhat probably won’t make up any ground at the box office this weekend either. If you want to see an entertaining movie about hackers, then watch…well, Hackers. It may be somewhat outdated but its still a fun movie to watch.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com

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