With Michael Mann’s switch towards digital cinematography following his 1995 epic Heat, and his obsession with technology and surveillance, it was probably inevitable he would make a film about hacking. Blackhat is that movie. A nuclear plant in China and a Chicago exchange get hacked, and a joint U.S./Chinese task force brings in convicted hacker Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) to help track the culprit.
Mann stresses the lethality of networked living, with government agencies and decentralized criminals able to gain access to information. Hemsworth’s team bullies its way to access stock portfolios, the group they chase manage to slip a tracker on their pursuers’ vehicle. Both watch each other through abstracted form–Blackhat‘s version of a stakeout revolves around staring at a bank account on a screen. Mann also takes the inert visual of writing code on keyboards and makes it as dynamic as his gunfights (which are also present): early cyber-attacks follow along cables and modem lights, exposing the guts of an intangible world; smart phones, computer screens, and flash drives are given closeups stressing their blocky, monolithic design. Hacks, especially when Hemsworth starts taking action, are put together like heist films rather than the magic wand they’re often portrayed as (Mann’s love of process at work). In flesh and blood scenes, cameras are often tightly focused over an actor’s shoulder as they glance around their oppressive surroundings, aware they could be watched at any moment from any angle. Blackhat is full of palpable, jittery paranoia. It’s a movie you drink in.