Blackhat is director Michael Mann trying very hard to make a Hong Kong thriller. It isn’t as bad as people are saying. In fact, the film is quite beautiful from beginning to end. What the detractors have right, though, is the slow-motion exposition — the movie needs to be cut by about 20 minutes to satisfy the attention span of American filmgoers. What is in the film, however, is meticulous and satisfying on many emotional levels; it’s a little sexy and violent without being stupid. Chris Hemsworth as a furloughed hacker and Wei Tang as a smart, sultry-sweet Chinese computer wizard and government agent have nice chemistry.
Maybe the biggest problem is Mann’s timing. Now that the United States and North Korea have gone to a proxy war over the computers at Sony Entertainment, a hack with a James Bond plot seems like tepid fare, even if you throw in environmental catastrophe. Mann is obsessively visual about this plot — you can’t flip a switch without him showing you the circuit the electricity travels — but the wonders don’t ever make the thriller that thrilling.
Fans of Ringo Lam and other cop-story Hong Kong auteurs (who were major discoveries two decades ago) will like the look, as well as the picturesque Asian outbacks and downtowns that get shown. It’s not enough, though. The movie’s solemnity is overwhelmed by the fast-moving world outside the theater. Mann’s a crafty moviemaker, but he’s behind the curve on this one.