Unfairly derided, Mann’s work here might not have come close to his best, but it’s still an intriguing 21st-century cyber-thriller set largely in Asia that deals with themes of geopolitics, technological fears, and agency versus anonymity in the digital world.
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Tang Wei, Wang Leehom
Plot: A man is released from prison to help American and Chinese authorities pursue a mysterious cyber-criminal.
Subject Matter: Moderate – Cyberterrorism; Technological Fears; Geopolitics
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
It has been seven years since Michael Mann’s last film, Blackhat, which was a box-office bomb, earning a paltry US$20 million from a US$70 million budget despite being headlined by an international cast that included Chris Hemsworth, Tang Wei, Viola Davis and Wang Leehom.
It was also derided by critics, unfairly if I may add. I think most people misunderstood the film, much like how Mann’s Miami Vice (2006) was criticised when it was released, only to be reappraised more than a decade later.
I enjoyed Blackhat because I could see Mann’s ideas and mechanics at work, and I like being able to appreciate a director’s thoughtful approach to filmmaking, to the extent that its ‘flaws’ become forgivable, such as some incredulous moments of plotting. (To be fair, this was a rare occasion that Mann wasn’t involved as a screenwriter.)
He, however, remains a master of the crime procedural-thriller, with Blackhat very much an extension of his decades-long obsession with outsiders of society trying to find a world where they could comfortably operate in.
Here, that extension is two-prong: firstly, he brings the 21st century to the fore like never before with the premise built on the perils of cyberterrorism, while also tackling themes such as technological fears and the idea of agency versus anonymity in the digital world.
Hemsworth plays an imprisoned hacker tasked to help the US government to find the mastermind behind a slew of attacks in exchange for his freedom, while Tang Wei and Wang Leehom play experts from China in a geopolitical team-up.
Secondly, Mann shot much of his film in Asia, the most internationally-oriented work in his filmography. As such, the sights and sounds of Hong Kong, and Jakarta in particular, are interesting, culminating in a tour de force set-piece involving a religious parade.