Blackhat – Christian Movie Review
I have always wanted to see a filmmaker — a really good one like Michael Mann (“Heat,” “The Last of the Mohicans,” “The Insider,” “Collateral”) — show an audience what the hardware (all the wires, motherboard, etc.) that supports the Internet looks like when a hack takes place — just to remind us that the Internet is not some magical entity that floats in the heavens, its source unreachable to all humanity like Mount Olympus in Greek myth.
No, when you boil it down, the Internet is still wires and boxes and motherboards and buttons that can collect dust, be handled by human hands, and require storage in physical locations.
The plot (from IMDB): “A furloughed convict and his American and Chinese partners hunt a high-level cybercrime network from Chicago to Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Jakarta.”
The film’s story was inspired by the real-life hacking operation known as StuxNet, in which mysterious hackers sabotaged Iran’s nuclear power plants using blackhat hacking techniques that caused the programmable logic controllers to fail.
And, as far as seeing what all that really looks like on the inside when a hack takes place, I got my wish in the first five minutes of “Blackhat.” Although the film was mostly dissed by critics (31% on RottenTomatoes as of Friday 1/16), and although I can understand why some didn’t like it, “Blackhat” (minus some of the R-rated content) was just the globetrotting, atmospheric, melancholy, slow-burn thriller that I was in the mood to see.
So (minus the graphic violence) I very much enjoyed it. And I’ll explain why in a moment.
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance…
Sexual Content/Nudity/Themes of Sexuality: One sex scene in which it is mostly implied — no nudity in it. Several scenes of characters kissing. Other review sites include male shirtlessness in this category, so I will too (because it’s kind of funny): the manly Mr. Hemsworth struggles to keep his shirt on in much of the movie (he has obviously contracted the Matthew McConaughey No-Shirt Syndrome that McConaughey suffered through in much of his early career).
Violence/Gore: One graphic scene where a man gets a screwdriver stabbed through his temple into his brain. Graphic bullet wounds where victims get shot up, and the bullets really chew up the bodies. It’s realistic and bloody. In a restaurant fight, a man gets his face sliced up with a broken bottle. Victims of a nuclear power plant meltdown are seen with charred bodies. A man is blown up with a car bomb. A man is stabbed multiple times in the chest with a knife at a very rapid speed, and though the visual is not graphic, the sounds are visceral somehow — very graphic sounding, if that makes sense. After the stabbing we see the man, now dead, lying in a very large pool of blood. A man has a serious gash on his abdomen, and we see it up close as they pour medicinal liquid on it to treat.
Language: One f-word and other scattered obscenities. I have actually heard more language in PG-13 movies, so this R-rated thriller surprised me by its restraint (in contrast to most R-rated action films).
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: Smoking is portrayed. A man is found dead with a heroin needle in his arm.
Frightening/Intense Content: Mann is a master of slowly racketing up tension. Most of the action scenes are very realistic as if you were there in the middle of all of it. A woman witnesses a loved one die in a car bomb, and her grief is powerfully portrayed and could be a little too intense for anyone who is experiencing fresh grief.
(Review continues below)
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Entertainment Value and Film Craft
Critics dissed “Blackhat,” saying it was Michael Mann spoofing himself. I suppose some parts of the script were a little slow, the casting choices in some of the government officials felt (perhaps) just slightly cliche, and some of the lingering camera shots were weirdly awkward — not really characteristic of a master like Mann.
But wow did this movie have atmosphere. It has a pervasive melancholy, quietly illuminated by the lights of Hong Kong at night (and other night locations like Jakarta, Indonesia and Malaysia) that get under your skin. Its moody and a little dazed, like when you’re riding in a taxi through the middle of a city staring at its skyline at night, lost in thought, not really looking at what you’re looking at, your vision going in and out of focus.
This movie had all of the half-dreaming, things-happening-in-your-peripheral vision, jarring real-life motion that has made Michael Mann movies such masterpieces. The second and third act of this film were classic Mann — as good as anything he’s done, in my opinion. The scenes after the car bomb in which the main characters fly out of Hong Kong in a plane, and we see Venus shining above the wing just after dusk — with that aquamarine, greenish hue of post-sunset, as Chen Lien mourns her brother — is one of the most atmospheric moments I’ve seen in a movie in quite awhile. And the scene at the Balinese Nyepi Day (which really takes place at night) is very good too, as 3,000 red-clad extras sift past the camera continuously for 15 minutes like salmon swimming up a stream — all while Hemsworth’s character maneuvers around his opponents.
And the sound design was extraordinary. Some of the sound effects made my jaw drop. I’m sort of an audio nerd, so not everyone will care as much about it, but this film deserves an award in that category.
I was a little disappointed to learn, however, that the composer Harry Gregson-Williams was shafted. He arrived at the film’s premier and learned that they had replaced most of his score with the work of somebody else!
Its villain is the embodiment of self-centered humanity carried to its logical extreme conclusion. In one scene, he says that people only exist as long as he is thinking about them. The moment they leave his mind, they cease to exist. The world, which become mere ones and zeroes in his mind as he manipulates it with his hacking, becomes a play thing that exists solely for his own benefit. He hacks power plants on the other side of the world and kills dozens of innocent people with the flippant press of the Enter key, and he doesn’t blink an eye. The film depicts this extreme expression of self-centeredness as a bad thing, and the film’s heroes display, at times, examples of the opposite — selflessness — as the good guys risk their lives for each other in gun battles or linger in a radiation-soaked power plant to make sure their comrades get out safely.
It’s not so black and white though. The heroes aren’t perfect. Hemsworth’s character Nick Hathaway has exhibited plenty of selfishness of his own, using his hacking skills to rob banks. And, although we see him find a path of redemption by using his skills for good to fight the bad guys, he also takes a “Count of Monte Cristo” approach in which he exacts merciless, brutally violent revenge upon those who have killed his friends.
It’s a bloody movie, for sure — so it might not be the most edifying choice for a Friday night — but its portrayal of self-centered humanity hits the nail on the head. It shows how all of the mind-boggling complexity of the Internet and technology can be boiled down into something very simple: a devastating conduit for our selfishness. With the recent news headlines of movie studios getting hacked, organized blackhat hacker groups, and a battle to find off-the-grid ways to replace the Internet, this movie fits right in to the culture’s current zeitgeist.
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