Year Released: 2015
Directed by: Michael Mann
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Wei Tang, Leehom Wang
(R, 133 min.)
Genre: Drama, Action and Adventure
“The moment you connect, you lose control.” Blackhat hacker Gary Baker
Thor’s Chris Hemsworth as a MIT dropout super hacker whose elegant cyber code is almost as beautiful as his chiseled jaw and body? Actually the film is much better than its unlikely premise and certainly a great antidote for the winter blahs.
Of course, you have to wash it down with a large cocktail of suspended disbelief or make do with the Hong Kong Black Bomb Cocktail Recipe provided below. First of all, forget the stereotypic hacker profile–you know anemic and bespectacled like hacker wannabe Edward Snowden, or soft and sort of spongy like the early McGee on NCIS, before he lost the weight and gained the love of fellow cyber expert Delilah, who unlike her male counterparts was allowed to be both beautiful and brainy. Which I guess is why they felt they had to cripple her last season.
And you have to abolish any notions that these hackers live in their mother’s basements (see Warlock from 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard: Hacker’s Hash Recipe), where the closest they get to violence is playing "Grand Theft Auto" in their subterranean hideouts.
However, our blackhat hacker – derived from old Westerns where the Roy Rogers always wore a white hat and the bads guys black – is into the real thing. Director Michael Mann shows the backdoor computer virus approach in slow motion via a Tron-like flashback inside the guts of the computer. Which either builds suspense or boredom. Take your pick. Or maybe Mann is just lulling us into a semi-comatose state during the endless sequence only to awaken us to the nightmare that follows – an exploding nuclear plant in Hong Kong.
But what really awakens the FBI is the manipulation of soy futures in the American markets. Reluctantly they agree to work with Captain Chen Dawai (Leeholm Wang), head of China’s cyber warfare unit, to track down the perpetrator. He enlists the assistance of his equally brilliant sister, Lien (Wei Tang) and insists of getting an American expert on the team. The fact that Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) is serving 15 years for computer crimes is not really a problem, since Captain Chen reveals the viral code, or RAT (Remote Access Tool) is really a crude version of what he and Hathaway designed when they were roommates back at MIT. Needless to say that at this point you will have to try to get over saying Thor and MIT in the same sentence, of course.
The rest of the film is fast paced and doesn’t bog us down with endless sequences of fingers flying over a keyboard. Actually, for being a cyber warfare flick, the film has a distinct retro feel about it. There are the usual dead end leads. In fact, it almost invokes the first 30 minutes of the early Law and Order television episodes with Detective Lennie Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) and company knocking on doors all over Manhattan before they find the right guy.
Lennie had his by the books Leiutenant Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) to keep him on the straight and narrow, and so does Hathaway, in the person of FBI’s Carol Barrett (two time Oscar nominee Viola Davis vastly underused here), who upsets the good old boys’ by-the-book moves with some breakout action of her own here.
Break out moves and an a widely expanded beat as well, with the team hitting the local dives, ratty hotels, and spectacularly shot incandescent skylines from L.A. to Hong Kong, with Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, and Indonesia thrown in for good measure.
The action sequences rock, too, I might add, with an early James Bond feel of exotic cultural extravaganzas as hiding places for close-quartered violence, the kind done with a knife or a chiseled screwdriver.
While most critics have not been impressed, echoed by a tepid at best box office where American Sniper has taken all the oxygen in the room, a few of us march to the beat of a different drummer:
Mr. Hemsworth is a brooding Adonis best known for playing Thor in the big-screen cartoons who should be better known for playing a racecar driver in the undersung Rush. He has a pallor and hard-body physique that don’t jibe with the usual mental snapshot of the puny, pasty criminal hacker, even if his bulk makes sense as a jailhouse defense. He isn’t a persuasive typist (he was tutored on his keyboard fingerwork), but what he does have is a natural pensiveness bordering on melancholy that creates a nice frisson with his bulging muscles and heartthrob looks. You can see him diving into thought, which works for a role that requires his character to serve as our conduit for a lot of jargon. –Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
“Blackhat” is still bleak, brooding and beautiful enough to skate by. It’s not warrior poetry. It’s warrior haiku — more taken by form than function. Nick Rogers
“A warrior haiku.” You could do worse, you know.
Given the tragic trail of bodies our blackhat hacker leaves behind, this beverage may be a little too close to home for our intrepid cyber sleuths.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy this spectacular flaming cocktail from Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Black Bomb Cocktail
2/3 oz. Absinthe
2/3 glass Stout Guinness
2/3 oz. Jagermeister
2/3 oz. Rum, overproff/151 proof
Fill Guinness Stout into a highball glass about 2/3 full. Layer Absinthe, Jagermeister and 151 rum into a 2 oz. shooter glass. Light the 151, let it burn for 2 seconds, then drop into the highball glass. Drink it all.