Directed by:  Michael Mann

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Wei Tang, Viola Davis, Ritchie Coster, Holt McCallany, Yorick van Wageningen, and Leehom Wang

Every week, it seems like there is news of another data breach.  We have seen major companies get hacked, including Target, Home Depot and many more.  There was even a story about some mysterious Russians stealing over a billion passwords.  However, the attack on Sony brought cyberterrorism to the forefront more than any other recent data breach.  Beyond the disclosure of celebrity gossip or movie scripts, thousands of people had their social security numbers, personnel files and other confidential information disclosed.  It is truly alarming how dependent upon technology we are, and how vulnerable it can be.  So when I saw the trailer for Blackhat, I was intrigued and excited to see what Michael Mann would do with the subject matter.  The trailer had the gritty look of Collateral, and I thought Mann would provide a fresh take on cybercrime.  Unfortunately, the film did not live up to my expectations.

As the film starts, the computer systems at a Chinese nuclear power plant are hacked, resulting in an explosion with numerous innocent plant workers killed.  At the same time, a similar cyberattack is attempted in the United States, but it is unsuccessful.  The Chinese government assigns Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang) to investigate the blackhat hacker behind the attacks.  Dawai suggests liaising with the U.S. government to find the hacker(s).  The government agrees, and Dawai heads to the U.S.  Dawai decides to bring his sister Chen Lien (Wei Tang) because he wants to work with an engineer he can trust.

When Dawai arrives, he meets with Carol Barrett (Viola Davis) and other members of a government cyber defense team.  They have found that a sophisticated code was used to plant a R.A.T., remote access tool, in the nuclear plant’s computer system.  The R.A.T. enabled the hacker to control different parts of the power plant. Dawai is familiar with the code, as he helped his roommate Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) develop it when he was a student at M.I.T.  Nick is currently serving time in federal prison for computer crimes.  Initially, the government refuses to consider releasing Nick.  However, the hacker hits Wall Street, changes stock prices and steals tens of millions of dollars.  Desperate, the government agrees to release Nick.  If he successfully apprehends the hacker behind the recent attacks, his sentence will be commuted.  If not, he will be sent back to prison.  What follows is a race around the world to track down the man behind the hacks.

Blackhat is at times a decent movie, but it never quite lives up to its potential.  Moreover, the film is a bit schizophrenic.  Initially, Mann focuses on the technology behind cybercrimes.  The opening scene visually traces the hack through keyboards, wires and servers.  But then the film veers into an action movie with Chris Hemsworth dodging bullets, cars exploding and bodies flying.  For good measure, Mann throws in a love story for Hemsworth as well.  Mann just does not find a cohesive tone for the film, so it feels erratic and random.  Ultimately, Mann tries to do too much, and the result is a lackluster, disjointed film.  Moreover, I was a bit disappointed that the film went from outsmarting the hacker to just brute force and violence.  It felt like a copout.

There are some shining moments in the film.  Viola Davis steals every scene she is in.  In fact, in a couple of scenes, I was reminded of her tough character Annalise on How To Get Away With Murder.  Hemsworth commits to the role.  I listened to a Blackhat Event on EW radio with Mann and Hemsworth.  Hemsworth discussed how he visited hackers in prison, went to a steel mill town to study accents and get into his character’s backstory.  It showed.  Unfortunately, the material just was not there.

Blackhat earns a 0.09% rating.  I would not rush out to see this film, but if you do, have a French martini with this one.