Michael Mann’s Blackhat is worth seeing for a couple of sequences alone—a critical firefight that separates our hero from the rest of his team just before boarding a flight to Jakarta, and the staging of the movie’s final showdown set piece, with players fuzzing on and off the slippery focal plane of Stuart Dryburgh’s camera, pursuing each other among the undulating figures and vibrant marchers of a celebratory Indonesian dance in a public square.
Unfortunately, it’s also got the uniformly anti-dynamic, lightweight Chris Hemsworth at its center, who has been guided by his director into a glum, monotonic existential slow burn that at times made me pine for the gossamer comic stylings of Edward James Olmos as Lieutenant Castillo. You need more than a black hole at the center of any movie which stakes itself, as Blackhat does, to rethinking the action genre for the age of cyber-terrorism and cyber-profiteering, because despite the ingenious visual effects devices Mann employs to signify the way viruses and malware take over electronic security and operating systems, a large of part of what happens on the scope screen is devoted to people staring intently at laptops and typing furiously, never missing a stroke. (Interesting that it flopped theatrically just as the Sony cyber-hack panic was peaking.)
That said, Blackhat is worth seeing for the aforementioned sequences, the nightscapes Mann and Dryburgh concoct for their action figures to scuttle around in, and for the presence of Viola Davis, measured and ice-dry and never sexier as a no-nonsense DOJ agent whose world-weary glare alone looks as though it could erase all traces of Hemsworth, or anyone else in the cast, at her whim. The movie doesn’t entirely work-- all that visual bravado, and it still feels like a sketch for a more deeply felt movie that has escaped Mann's grasp. But I still wish I’d seen it in a theater, and the prospect of soaking in it at home soon, with the lights down and the big screen aglow with the eerie depths of Malaysia and Chicago and Jakarta at night, remains irresistible.