WHAT I LIKED: Michael Mann's 'Blackhat,' follows a convicted hacker called Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) as he joins the CIA and some old friends from Chinese Intelligence (Tang Wei and Wang Leehom) to track down a mysterious cyber-criminal network wreaking havoc in both the US and China. It's often seen as a missfire, but it actually serves as an interesting study of why Mann's films are usually so engaging, even if it's not up there with his best.
On the hand it's yet another great example of how cinematically he tells his stories; dispensing dialogue for slow, tentative visual reveals. Take the opening sequence as an example. He begins with a group of random men in a room on computers with zero context, then plays an inventive visual effects sequence from within a machine to suggest some kind of far reaching-effect, shows Hemsworth having snuck a phone into his cell back in the US, then broadcasts a power-plant accident in China. It doesn't take a genius to imagine how these things might be connected of course (especially knowing the premise) but the sheer fact it's never overtly spelt out keeps your eyes hooked on the screen as you wait to have your suspicions confirmed. That style of filmmaking is something that's utilised throughout, with characters slowly making realisations along with the audience to further the plot and the camera zooming in on their faces as they do so.
The other great strength of the film is that as things develop, the more the central characters (namely Hemsworth and Wei's) lose personally, the more obsessed they become with finding and taking down the hackers responsible, and, crucially, the more they become a family as opposed to a group of professionals. People and their relationships are arguably the things that Mann has always been the most interested in, and here just as ever he loves lingering on their melancholy, pushing them to their limits so that you understand them more and peel back the layers within an otherwise impersonal world. That engages you even further in what's going on, and the fact it's then intercut with the occasional moment of exploded tension as Mann allows action to overwhelm the otherwise desolate atmosphere, you've got yourself all the ingredients for a taut and engaging suspense movie.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: The only problem is that its script is very plotty indeed, so that character stuff often has to take a back seat and Hemsworth doesn't get the chance he deserves to convince us or let us in, or even to hook us with his undeniable screen presence.
Perhaps the bigger problem though is the plottiness itself, as there are so many reveals to make often in very little time, and the fact they're mostly done visually (often on a computer screen in fact) can make things very confusing.
VERDICT: 'Blackhat,' shows off Michael Mann's ever-brilliant atmospheric and visual storytelling techniques, but his style arguably isn't the best match for this frantic, plotty script which puts the code over its more interesting human elements.