Girl on: Michael Mann’s ‘Blackhat’

Chris Hemsworth in Blackhat

The opening shots make it clear, here’s a film where the constant, predictable actions of a computer have superseded reality. The digital, with it’s rules and frameworks, the fact that everything has to be somewhere and commanded and traceable makes it a damn sight more real than the mess that we live in. It’s a cohesive world all of its own, but one that exists outside of most of our understanding.

Which is a terrifying prospect enough on its own, and then you get to our heroes and get to see how all the difficulties in their investigation are compounded by being physical beings who have to interface with this world. Their struggles are all about access, the difficulty of being places, having a body, especially one that’s so fragile.

So what if you never even see the villain until the last fifteen minutes, isn’t that the point? The villain is the code, protected by his ability to live an almost purely digital existence, to constrain him to a human form is to reduce him, at that point if you’re pitting him against Hemsworth he’s basically already dead.

Didn’t know that people were against his casting, he does a fine job, but like most Mann protagonists is more compelling in his contemplative silences and physical presence than when he’s doing the talking. It works, you’ve got Viola Davis for that and Holt McCallany and Leehom Wang and they’re infinitely capable of spouting exposition.

I remember some interview with Fincher around the time of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo where he responded to criticism of the film’s style by saying ‘there’s only so many ways you can shoot people sitting at computers.’ I like how this film leans into it, how unsexy it makes the work seem. Because it gives you that scene late on of two incredibly attractive people sitting next to each other at laptops with a chunky USB hub between them and it might be the most I’ve ever reacted to a straight male director’s vision of eroticism.

Because Tang Wei’s character if confident, and competent, and recognises straight away that this man’s a snack. Like, Mann’s past two romantic leads have been disaster-mode Colin Farrell and two-inches-away-from-it Johnny Depp. Now here’s folks who are just interested in the work, and each other, and handle the rest of it like adults.

It’s odd that even though I was watching the muddied timeline of the theatrical cut, the only thing that really jumped out to me as weird when they finally get to the destroyed power plant was the conversation the brother forces along the way of, ‘you don’t mess with my sister,’ when they’re so obviously handling this like adults.

I like Tang Wei in this film, she’s sorta fitting into this arc over the last three Mann joints about America’s relationship (obsession?) with the foreign. He hires actors with little experience working in the English language to be the object of his heroes desire. He wants them to seem new to the audience’s eyes. Maybe vulnerable, this surface level unease that belies the strength within.

It’s an evolution I guess, from Miami Vice‘s faux concern of ‘is the cartel boss forcing her sexually’ to this, where the woman’s first interaction with the man is to notice he’s troubled and ask how he’s doing. That film’s closing statement of ‘you’re in the wrong world and we can never be together’, to this one’s ‘maybe we’re both just fucked up and that’s okay’

I was reminded of The Keep where that film’s editing led to the ‘romance’ being reduced to a weird intercut sex/conversation scene that felt totally put of place. Yet here, the film does basically the exact same thing; they have sex, chat briefly about their feelings, and in this context it totally works.

Honestly kinda not sure what else people would want from this film, it’s all there on the screen, a perfect little object.

I’m watching the films of Michael Mann alongside the Blank Check podcast, check them out if you’ve been enjoying these retrospectives. I also try list all the films I watch on letterboxd, so check me out there to catch everything else.


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