Blackhat review

While not one of the director's best, this cyber-thriller shouldn't leave fans feeling hacked off

Michael Mann's latest stars Chris (Thor) Hemsworth as Nicholas Hathaway, a former cyber-crook released from jail in order to aid a joint U.S.-Chinese investigation into a cyber terrorist who has used some of Hathaway's old code to bring down a nuclear reactor in Hong Kong. As the team cautiously track the mysterious reactor hacker through Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia, they find themselves a target in his ongoing campaign of terror.

After the misfire of his 2009 period gangster film Public Enemies, director Michael Mann presumably expected he was on much safer ground with this contemporary thriller. Sadly, it wasn't to be, with the majority of critics slamming the film and audiences staying well away. All of which is very odd. While it may fall some way short of Mann's best work (think Manhunter), Blackhat remains an enjoyable thriller, elevated to something even grander through the filmmaker's boundless style.

Indeed, at the age of 72 Mann still finds himself at the forefront of digital cinema, embracing the technology in ways that no other mainstream filmmakers (not even those half his age) appear capable or willing to do. From shoot outs to somebody typing on a keyboard, he's able to give any piece of 'action' a sense of vitality and urgency that ratchets up the tension. And, of course, there's still nobody else with his eye for a cityscape.

What a shame then that Blackhat ends up falling short when it comes to plotting and character. In these departments the film takes a few too many shortcuts, particularly when it comes to developing some of the supporting cast. If as much time had been spent polishing the script as was spent on its visuals, then Blackhat could have been something really great, rather than simply good.

Picture: The extremely stylish 2.40:1-framed Blu-ray encode feels like a natural evolution of the work Mann did on Miami Vice and Public Enemies.

Detailing is generally excellent, particularly in the big close-ups of faces that Mann favours; although shadow detail sometimes gets obscured by the rather flat blacks that are endemic to digital photography. Excess noise also raises its head in some darker scenes – although Mann uses it as another aesthetic tool (much like you would with a particularly grainy film stock), rather than a problem to be avoided.
Picture rating: 4.5/5

Audio: Blackhat's DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix packs a heck of a punch when it comes to scenes like Chapter 10's harbour gun fight, and spends the rest of the time tirelessly engaging your setup with ambient effects that bring the locations to life.

If there's a 'problem', it's one people will be familiar with from the likes of Miami Vice, where Mann deliberately allows pieces of dialogue to be overwhelmed by sound effects, as they would be in the real world. It's a naturalistic approach that may leave some viewers flicking on the subtitles.
Audio rating: 4/5

Extras: Just a trio of behind-the-scenes featurettes: The Cyber Threat (13 mins), On Location Around the World (10 mins) and Creating Reality (17 mins). Disappointing, but hardly a surprise given the lack of support Blackhat received on its cinema release.
Extras rating: 1.5/5

We say: While it's no classic, Michael Mann's techno-thriller deserves to do better on Blu-ray than it did in cinemas

Blackhat, Universal Pictures, All-region BD, £25 Approx