'Blackhat' shows it isn't easy dramatizing cyber intrigue

'Blackhat' stars Chris Hemsworth as Nicholas Hathaway, a cyber genius who is tracking down the perpetrator of a malware attack on a Chinese nuclear reactor.

Frank Connor/Universal Pictures/AP
Tang Wei, as Chen Lien, and Chris Hemsworth, as Nicholas Hathaway star in Legendary’s film, ‘Blackhat,’ from director and producer Michael Mann.

The timing of the Michael Mann cyber-thriller “Blackhat” could not be more fortuitous, but the film itself seems ripped less from the headlines than from the perfervid imagination of Mann in full “Miami Vice” mode.

Chris Hemsworth plays Nicholas Hathaway, a cyber genius whose prison sentence for hacking violations is commuted so he can track down the perpetrator of a malware attack on a Chinese nuclear reactor – for starters. Nicholas’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology roommate, Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang), now a Chinese military official, is his cohort; his sister, Lien Chen (Wei Tang), is the decorative systems engineer who, of course, falls for Nicholas as they scamper through Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Malaysia tracking the bad guys.

Despite the plethora of car chases and shootouts, shot in torrid colorations, my favorite part of the movie was its opening sequence: an expertly diagrammed five-minute animated rendering of code speeding through a network. We’ve come a long way since “Tron.” 

The human interactions are somewhat less exciting. I don’t begrudge Mann and his screenwriter Morgan Davis Foehl for their overemphasis on standard-issue shootouts – it’s never been easy dramatizing cyber intrigue. Still, given our brave new cyber world, someone in Hollywood is going to have to come up with a better way to do it. Watching actors tap out code as big buzzing screens of digital data flash on the screen just doesn’t cut it.

Do cyber whizzes look like Chris Hemsworth, best known for playing Thor? I’m sure some do, although I doubt there are many who also appear to qualify as decathletes. That’s fine. Even though the filmmakers try to make us believe we’re witnessing a real-world dystopia, this is a Hollywood movie after all. Grade: C+ (Rated R for violence and some language.)

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