Movie Reviews

Movie Review: ‘Blackhat’


Sometimes, watching a bad film – and in my case, subsequently writing a review of a bad film – can be an enjoyable experience. There are some films that are so painfully awful that they actually become somewhat fascinating, and there’s a part of you that wants tell others about them, mostly so you can sit around afterward saying things like “do you remember that part when…” and sharing a laugh.

And then there are films like Blackhat, which is so appallingly atrocious that it borders on being offensive. While it probably isn’t fair to believe that every film from Michael Mann to be as engaging as Heat or as exciting as Collateral, audiences should still be able to expect a certain level of competence from the veteran director. In this case, those competencies aren’t just missing – it’s almost as if they never existed. If it weren’t for a handful of signature shots, I would never have believed that Mann had anything to with this mess of a film.

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Chris Hemsworth, best known for his role as Thor in the Marvel films, is laughably miscast as Nicholas Hathaway, an MIT graduate currently serving a 15-year sentence for hacking into a series of banks. After a disaster in a Chinese power plant is traced back to a malicious piece of code, Hathaway gets furloughed in order to help a no-nonsense FBI agent (Viola Davis) and his former roommate, now a Chinese government official (Wang Leehom), track down the culprit – because of course, Hathaway just happens to have a special connection to the code.

And speaking of special connections, there’s also his old pal’s sister (Tang Wei), who gets a few looks at Hathaway and his constantly unbuttoned shirt and falls right into bed with him. There’s a throwaway line about her being some sort of network engineer, but she exists solely as a plot device, an effort to shoehorn a preposterous romance into a film that is already full of things that make absolutely no sense. For starters, if Hathaway has been in prison for most of his adult life, when did he find time to become an expert marksman with a handgun, or a master of hand-to-hand combat?


This is just one of many, many questions that Blackhat raises, without offering a single satisfactory answer. Michael Mann goes to great lengths to extend the film’s already overbearing running time by subscribing to the “style over substance” theory. Take, for example, the film’s opening sequence, which finds the camera doing a microscopic zoom into phone lines and over motherboards, showing us what it believes are the inner workings of technology as data is being transmitted. It’s an arrogant, ham-fisted attempt to create excitement where none exists, and the truth is, we don’t care about seeing the data travel from Point A to Point B – we just want to know what happens when it gets there.

Rarely have I found myself so overwhelmingly frustrated with a film, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I sat in a theater checking my watch as often as I did during Blackhat. This is the first theatrical release I’ve seen since before the start of the new year, and I almost feel ashamed by the fact that I wasted the title of “first movie of 2015” on this garbage. Unlike the aforementioned so-bad-they’re-good films, there is nothing redeemable, interesting, or enjoyable about Blackhat. Don’t make the same mistake I did.

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  1. November 12, 2015 “Should we trust a movie reveiwer who uses Hyperbole?”

    Blackhat is described by Bret Hankins as “…so appallingly atrocious that it borders on being offensive.”

    He actually complains that it is not just ‘implausible’ – but that special kind of implausible for movies: “so utterly unrealistic, improbable and unlikely that it exists solely to further the Plot (instead of the honest use of Character)” – AND Bret finds it implausible that “For starters, if Hathaway has been in prison for most of his adult life, when did he find time to become…a master of hand-to- hand combat?” Really? WHERE / HOW would a man in Prison – not Jail, but PRISON – ever in the world of reality become good at Fighting hand-to-hand!?! Wow, THAT is “one of many, many” questions?

    Then we finally get to that totally unoriginal, but ubiquitous description of the reviewers personal experience – AS IF we must all be oh so very Impressed! that a man of such obviously superior intellect, etc., could have suffered so much! It is the REAL PROOF that the movie is not good – after all “Rarely have I found myself so overwhelmingly frustrated with a film, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I sat in a theater checking my watch as often as I did during Blackhat.”

    Reviews have become more of a Showplace for some reviewer to show us all how clever and sophisticated they are – as if we care! We do not care except for the fact that this phenom results in the kind of Tell-Tale signs (above) of such a reviewer – so we all know that we CAN NOT TRUST such a reviewer in the future…

    1. Personally, I’m much more likely to trust a reviewer who uses hyperbole than someone who complains about a film review from more than 9 months ago, and can’t even bother to correctly spell the name of the reviewer they’re complaining about.

      Reviews are opinions, dear reader – whether or not you should “trust” my opinion or not is entirely up to you. There are plenty of other sites you can visit to find movie reviews – why not try Metacritic? Their aggregate score for BLACKHAT is a 51, which is far more generous than I gave it.

      And there’s also Rotten Tomatoes, where this same film carries a 34% from critics, and a 25% from the audience. Sounds like I’m not the only person out there who thought BLACKHAT was garbage. But hey, you’re free to enjoy any film you like – like all art forms, everyone’s experience will be different.

      Thanks for reading – be sure to check out the full review archive for more stuff you can complain about!

      1. Thanks for responding, Brent.

        You are right that my comment was weak, though it contained certain thoughts worth exploring and discussing as they affect movie reviews and how they are written and read – and my main point affects writing and reading across-the-board. It’s well illustrated by movie reviews for many reasons, including that it’s done by professionals and amateurs alike. Are they all equally qualified to do so? It’s almost self-evident that they are not and my point is that the poor writing faults of those unqualified in many respects (and those many who are unqualified in every respect) are leaching into reading and writing with negative affect – especially with regard to the use of the correct word and the ability to describe ‘something’ with honesty and scrupulous accuracy.

        SO the comment? I did not represent myself well, I admit. That you took the time and effort to reply tells me that, petty barbs notwithstanding, you took seriously at least part of my comment (even if to refute). You seem willing to give the benefit of the doubt (to an extent) and I reckon you do not have time or energy to spare, so perhaps something made sense. You already show the (too rare) ability to appreciate each separate point or thought seperately, so the many puerile or cliche’ thoughts didn’t render you blind to all others.

        You make several good or valid points and I do apologize for my inappropriate hissy fit and for misspelling your name and similar laziness. Your response struck on the key to disarming someone like me – Civility. Though not civil through and through, your reply was quite civil given my rantings that were distorted by bad judgement and shallow thinking (results anger will often produce). Like most commentators, I indulge in that which I criticize and I exaggerated while railing against exaggeration. Obviously my choice, though I had read a dozen IMDB comments that informed my frustration and when I did finally get to yours, I guess I expected more from someone with so much experience who has reviewed so many movies.

        What I did not indulge myself in is that closed-minded way many people have taken to using words and language in the way that best suits them rather than taking the time and effort to find and use the word that’s simply most appropriate. Insecure people ‘started it’ – think of the pre teenager who is highly insecure and we find that they resort to using The most extreme or superlative word to describe something that simply does not warrant such usage – something that is simply not that extreme (although the teen’s perception or experience may be extreme, still there does exist in reality things that are far, far more extreme and by using that extreme word inappropriately, they no longer have the correct word to describe that Actually extreme ‘thing’.

        “Atrocious” obviously derives from “Atrocity”. Hardly a word associated with he acts or behavior of a movie director. It IS a word most often associated, as it should be, with War Crimes and the like – something that is extreme, utterly ugly, harmful and shocking. Something unnatural that shocks our consciousness and sensibilities – THAT is what I am talking about. It is simply not an appropriate word to be used in a movie review to describe how bad a movie is. The word has already been assigned it’s specific meaning; it has already been used in that specific manner over and over and it’s established by it’s formal definition (always the starting point) and usage though the years and years of such usage. Now, however, many writers (often American) are misusing words like this one because it happens to be The most extreme word they can find and they constantly use it to describe something that is flat-out Not as extreme as the word connotes or was defined to describe.

        But my Point remains and you did not address that point or the Merits of the argument making that point. Language and words are precise and powerful tools used by writers such as yourself. It is not a matter of ‘Opinion’ whatsoever to recognize and address the mis-use of words and language. Such misuse is actually a huge issue to writers and the tendency in America to reach for and use The Most Extreme language possible to describe something that does NOT warrant using a Superlative or the like, that is NOT truly extreme or accurately, honestly described by that extreme word, is not only a disheartening tendency, it is resulting in harm to both the language itself and especially to the ability of such Americans to accurately and honestly describe something and express their thoughts.

        Good writers can express thoughts and ideas with scrupulous accuracy, detail and honesty. But if the language has been misused or the average reader has themselves misused the language, all of the sudden those words do NOT even have the same meaning – not ‘as intended, as defined’ and not to each of the writer and readers.

        “atrocious” alone is obviously based on “atrocity” – an extreme word describing extreme acts or behavior of extreme negativity. It’s not accurate, honest or appropriate. And you still felt the need to qualify an already extreme word with another “appallingly” and ended with, again, what seems like simply THE most extreme word you could find.

        How would you then describe, say, an actually Atrocious act or behavior? This is a perfect example of everything I criticize and hit has nothing at all to do with opinion. War Crimes are attrocious; movies and movie makers do not even register on radar. You yourself recognized that you were going over the line by qualifying that it “it BORDERS on being offensive”. What would make a movie actually Offensive? Several do spring to mind and not one of them is that way because of the quality of the movie making or the magnitude of the director’s failure, etc. “Offensive” is not about that whatsoever; “atrocious” is appropriate only to describe that which most of us never have the need – so like so much of the English Language, adjectives and adverbs in particular, we have taken the most extreme word we can find and mis-used it over and over until it becomes (to the uneducated and ignorant types) simply ‘valid by repeated usage’.

        All true writers abhor such treatment and manipulation of language; all truly honest thinkers likewise abhor the specific way that (especially in America) we have done this to so many words, phrases, etc. that we truly have NO language left to describe accurately and honestly acts, behavior, etc. that are and always have been the TRUE ‘meanings’ of such extreme words and language.

        The point I didn’t state very well, given my frustration and resulting distortions, is that when a professional reviewer such as yourself uses that kind of extreme language I must wonder if it is all meant literally? And if so, how can dozens and dozens of lesser movies not warrant such superlative description while this one does?

        It’s not about ‘Opinion’, but accurate use of the english language – being literal, not exaggerated, etc. There is no ‘right answer’ when giving an opinion and your strength is that unlike many professionals, you seem to always keep that in mind – my complaint about professionals is described in part by that Catch-22 line that “he knew everything about Literature instead of how to enjoy it.” Too many professionals are that way with movies and you are not.

        That is why I did go overboard in my comment (and I definitely should have spelled your name correctly – and used proper grammar, etc.). Technical weakness don’t detract much from an honest, valid criticism. The movie review is not 100% about opinion; there is a lot that Mann did well, some things he did very well and much that he did awfully. I happened to enjoy it enough to indulge him all of those weaknesses; I enjoyed it enough to overlook them and sometimes that simply ‘works’, as you know.

        Our difference is not about opinion, but the use by a professional writer of the most accurate, appropriate language to describe the review and the intellectual honesty required to compare unlike movies as if they were equal in all other respects. I definitely contend that other professionals have made things much worse for you – there are so many terrible writers with successful movie reviewing lines that you start off associated with them and their that brand of writing that seems ‘more about showing how clever they are than honest accuracy about the movie’.

        I retract the strength of that criticism about you – it was childish of me, but expressed a valid complaint about so very many other professionals. I’m sure you recognize this tendency. The anger, smug condescension and know-it-all mentality of so many other reviews also frustrated me as a ‘literalist’ who recognizes that superlatives, extreme language and often the tactic of describing ones self (“I never do this, but this time I did!” etc.). I expected more from you and, just as with movie reviews, ones expectations can determine the review – and high expectations that are disappointed or unrealized invariably result in anger (in most situations, actually – I once heard in a speech the belief that “most anger can be traced back to failed expectations” and that has merit).

        But your review, when it was so alike those others, was disappointing because I could tell that you are one of the very few who nonetheless still “got it” about Mann’s work and this movie. That focus set the climate to ignore anything good about the movie, how hard certain aspects are and how we should applaud any movie maker who takes big risks, even when such risks do not pay out. If instead we find ‘more of the same’ type extreme language and what seems quite exaggerated language like “appallingly atrocious that it borders on being offensive.”, I know it’s written for those with like-minded opinions and who will never even notice that you fail to address what’s far more important. Those readers don’t even know what is important anymore – having been ‘trained’ by Hollywood instead of simply intellect, education, insight, etc.

        Writing for such an audience is challenging, but when you indulge yourself and allow your audience to influence your very review, that will result in lower quality.

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