Wednesday, February 4, 2015


It's no mystery that I'm a Michael Mann fan. Look how well people know me...

Another friend of mine even made it a point to post some of the many negative Blackhat reviews on my facebook page just to rub it…

So yes, what you're about to read are the views of a diehard Michael Mann fan...

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – for a studio filmmaker Michael Mann is a breath of fresh air. He makes an honest attempt at trying to be different and somewhat experimental (when compared to most other mainstream directors). He also influenced a new generation of films that makes places like Los Angeles (Drive & Night Crawler) & Chicago (The Dark Knight) seem like the coolest places on earth (that opening bank robbery scene from The Dark Knight is straight out of Heat, right down to the music).

This isn’t so much of a review as it is a critique on what I feel some people got wrong about Blackhat (guest contributor Nathaniel Drake Carlson already did a superb job reviewing the film). I will say that Viola Davis had a couple of quick shining moments in her performance as “Agent Barrett”, and I was happy to see Ritchie Coster (“Kassar”) used as a villain in something besides one of the many different Law & Order incarnations (he’s seriously an updated/slightly more menacing version of Peter Stormare in my opinion). I also feel Holt McCallany (“Agent Jessup”) is an underrated actor who seemed to fit perfectly in the Michael Mann universe. Instead of stacking his cast with 3-5 famous/known actors (like he did with Heat, Public Enemies and The Insider), Michael Mann used two well known actors, one of which (Viola Davis) is really only in the first half of the film and the rest a cast of solid supporting actors who played their positions well.

Anyway, let’s address that “Technobabble” headline shown in that last image.
The crux of that review was that the dialogue used in Blackhat was way too convoluted and only real hackers could understand what the hell was going on (it should be acknowledged that actual hackers felt Blackhat was fairly authentic).
I have an issue with folks complaining about the dialogue (or “technobabble”) used in Blackhat because it seems a little unfair. Remember in 2004 when Shane Carruth made his directorial debut with Primer and everyone loved it (well, maybe not everyone, but you know what I mean)? In fact, what people seemed to love so much about the film was the smart/scientific dialogue and how Carruth gave his audience credit in not explaining every single little detail about time travel & wormholes. There was a level of familiarity to the dialogue in Primer that most people didn’t get right away (admit it – you did not fully understand Primer from top to bottom after the first viewing and if you say you did you’re lying). But instead of giving up on it people went back and rewatched the film over & over making it a lightweight cult classic (naturally the $7,000 budget also made Primer a sought after film). Someone even made up a time travel diagram to go along with the film.

Personally, I love Primer (I watched it a month ago and it still holds up) but to the average person, I’m sure it doesn’t sound fun to have to follow along with a chart in order to fully understand/enjoy a movie. Almost sounds like homework doesn’t it? But at the end of the day, people familiar with Primer don't seem to mind the extra work that goes in to understanding & enjoying it. It'd be nice if Blackhat had the same type of fans.
Here we are 11 years later and Michael Mann makes a perfectly timed film about computer hacking & cyber crimes (see: Anonymous, the sony email hacks and the controversy surrounding The Interview) using smart/appropriate dialogue that pertains to the subject matter and everyone has an issue with it. “The dialogue doesn’t make any sense” complained half the critics who wrote about Blackhat. I love how in 2015 half the population reads two Huffington post articles about the Anonymous hackers and/or the controversy surrounding high level email hacking then claim to be html code-geniuses, yet Michael Mann makes a film on the subject and suddenly everyone acts like a 90 year old grandparent trying to understand how computers work. Had Michael Mann spent his time trying to explain all the intricate ins & outs of computer hacking terminology to the audience he would have gotten ripped apart for crafting boring dialogue. It’s like he was in a lose/lose situation. Perhaps this is a compliment to Mann. I guess he’s held to a high standard (which he should be). Maybe people expect consistent greatness from him with every film (if you’re responsible for stuff like The Insider, Thief & Heat it’s understandable that people would expect greatness from you).

A lot of what I’m complaining about here echos my recent review of Spike Lee’s Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus. Not every Mann film is going to be a masterpiece. Some of his films are made strictly for entertainment and to be cool (and there's nothing wrong with being cool as long as it's natural).

There's also an issue of inconsistency here. Some of the same critics who loved Primer didn’t like Blackhat. “Top critics" like Steven Rae & J.R. Jones gave Primer praise while they trashed Blackhat. If you look at it from my point of view, that doesn’t make sense. Do people hold the Bourne films to the same high standards as they do Mann’s action films? No they don’t (and Blackhat is certainly in the same genre as the Bourne series only it has more style).

This is Miami Vice all over again. For some reason people failed to catch that Miami Vice was an adaptation of the television show of the same name and wanted some gritty cop drama. It’s Miami Vice. What the fuck were people expecting? You knew what you signed up for when you bought the ticket to see it. Even if you haven’t seen the original show/source material, you still knew the vibe of Miami Vice (and you know what? Miami is a fairly cheesy place. It’s a fun place that I love to visit, but there’s a layer of cheese over that city that Mann captured in my opinion). Are people so full of themselves that they can’t allow a film to be cool and, dare I say, a little bit cheesy every once in a while? I know Blackhat isn’t a masterpiece. It’s not without criticism.  The basic plot alone (the good guys use a likeable bad guy to capture an even worse bad guy) has been done a million times. Chris Hemsworth's accent/demeanor seems a little forced at times (as do certain lines of dialogue) and it’s never quite spelled out how an MIT-trained computer wizard knows how to defend himself/beat people up so well (I guess all his time in prison surrounded by hardened criminals toughened him up?). The romantic relationship between our love interests did kind of come out of nowhere, and from the outside looking in I can see how people had issues with the editing and jumpiness of the film (I personally didn’t mind it at all, but I can see how that could be offputting to some). But Blackhat still falls in line perfectly with Michael Mann’s post-Heat universe and continues to push that cool/sleek yet jazzy/chaotic style of his. A film critic on Deadline recently wrote a "What Happened To Michael Mann?" themed review on Blackhat and to that I have to respond by saying; nothing happened to him.

The final moments where Hemsworth is stalking the main henchman from behind through a crowd of people is no different than the final moments of Public Enemies when Christian Bale does the same to Johnny Depp...

Public Enemies

One of the shootout scenes in Blackhat (where Holt McCallany shines for a brief moment) is filmed in the same fashion as the shootouts in Heat & Public Enemies. There's a tense scene where Chris Hemsworth & co-star Tang Wei are on the run and escape on to the subway and I was immediately reminded of the final scene in Collateral when Jaime Foxx & Jada Pinkett jump on the subway to escape from Tom Cruise.


And like most Mann films (Thief, Heat, Public Enemies, Manhunter) Blackhat starts somewhat abruptly in the midst of some kind of heist with minimal dialogue.

I say all that to say if you love/like/enjoy Mann's previous work, I honestly don't understand why you'd dislike Blackhat so much. It's completely understandable as to why it may not be your cup of tea (don't forget all the weak points I called out earlier) but to so strongly dislike it means that you dislike his overall style in his other films.

I guess I’m a little sensitive to all this because Blackhat almost feels like Michael Mann’s first feature film in close to a decade (without meaning to sound too harsh, Public Enemies has obviously not stood the test of time and has become quite a forgettable film).
Blackhat won’t be in theaters for much longer, which means it’ll be available on DVD/Blu-Ray fairly soon. To those that misunderstood it upon your initial viewing, or avoided it because of all the bad press, maybe find some time in 2015 to get familiar/revisit this film with more of an open mind and allow yourself to be entertained instead of nitpicking at all the accuracy and pointing out what could & couldn't happen in real life.

make sure to listen to Pink Smoke contributor Eric Pfriender's recent podcast on Blackhat


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