The director Michael Mann has many, many devoted fans, and I do not particularly count myself among them. Though I consider The Insider to be among the most underappreciated films of the last 25 years, Heat left me cold—yes, you may stop reading now if you wish—and I thought Collateral wound up in default. All three, however, along with his superior The Last of The Mohicans, were at least memorable big-screen expansions of the style and sensibility that he began developing on television so many years ago.
Alas, since those days Mann seems to have entered an era of contraction, with the forgettable Public Enemies, the best-forgotten Miami Vice, and now, the I’m-forgetting-it-already Blackhat. Though his fans will find consolations scattered throughout, this lumbering cyberthriller seems less like an actual Michael Mann film than like the work of an inferior imitator.
The movie begins with a catastrophe at a Chinese power plant: a malicious little worm of code has wriggled its way into the system and shut down turbines in the cooling pool, leading to a reactor breach and the threat of meltdown. The young Chinese cyber-security official placed in charge of the investigation (played by Wang Leehom) requests, and is granted, a joint investigation with an American counter-terrorism official (Viola Davis). To round out his international action team, he chooses, with immaculate implausibility, his younger sister, Lien Chen (Tang Wei), whom he brings along because he “needs someone he can trust”; and his former college roommate, Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth). Complicating matters, Hathaway is a felon currently serving an extended sentence for stealing tens of millions of dollars from a series of banks. (Not to worry, we are later reminded with simple-minded satisfaction: He only stole from banks, not people.)