Blackhat

This review originally appeared at Reel Spirituality

blackhat_poster_200_316_84_s_c1Michael Mann’s 2004 film Collateral, came along at just the right time to be a big influence in the way I approach movies. Watching the making of featurette I was blown away by the amount of attention Mann put into the slightest detail, like the color of the taxicab, or the billboard advertisements. Most importantly, Collateral showed the potential for digital filmmaking. By contrast Mann’s latest film Blackhatshows the limitations of the medium.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Blackhat is that the potential shines through in places. Video allows detail in nighttime scenes to come through beautifully. For example, the dark ripple of the ocean at night, and a street market in China comes to life through this medium. Unfortunately video also makes many of the scenes feel as if they belong in a daytime drama rather than in a major motion picture.

Digital video isn’t the only weakness of the film; the acting, particularly from the leads, is stiff and lifeless. Chris Hemsworth and Wei Tang share little chemistry as the primary love interests and emotional center of the film, leaving Blackhat with a hollow core. Secondary characters fair better with Viola Davis giving an excellent performance as FBI agent Carol Barrett.

As a whole Blackhat falls short, but the moments that work, work well. One such moment comes at the end of the film in which Hemsworth confronts the film’s unnamed villain, as row upon row of torchbearers pass by. These regimented points of warm, organic light are contrasted with a shot early in the film of data passing through the microcircuits of a computer, rendered as rows of cool blue light flashing binary code. This sea of code flows through the information superhighway leaving havoc and destruction in its wake.

The scale of destruction that the villain causes is designed to get people’s attention. In the first scenes of the film, the villain causes the destruction of a nuclear power plant in china, an event that makes international news. Later, he makes several million dollars by causing the soy market to crash on Wall Street. The villain makes a point that money isn’t his main interest, but rather, the more money he makes, the more notorious he becomes.

By contrast Hemsworth’s Nick Hathaway, who we meet in prison, is more interested in his anonymity, going by the alias Ghostman online. We are introduced to Hathaway as he is placed in solitary confinement for hacking the accounts of the prison, and giving his fellow inmates more money in their expense fund. This is only one of many times he places himself in the crosshairs to help others.

In his book Mañana, Justo González writes that one of God’s primary characteristics is God’s for-otherness. If we are to be like God, then we too should be characterized by for-otherness. Time and again Hathaway demonstrates this for-otherness in his actions, continually looking out for the people around him, often at the expense of his own happiness and freedom. The villain, on the other hand, acts for-self, with complete disregard for the lives and well being of others.

Hathaway may not be the best candidate for exemplar of the faith, but he does illustrate the better way in this movie. Both the villain and Hathaway are skilled in their field, but the way they choose to use these skills earns one of them the title of black hat. In smaller ways we are offered the opportunity, either follow God’s example and look out for the interests of others, or take a different path, only looking out for our own interests.

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