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[Movie] Blackhat

Blackhat is a spy-fi movie about good hackers trying to stop bad hackers from doing nasty things to manipulate the stock market. It also involves a not inconsiderable amount of shooting and blowing things up, and eventually death via screw driver. Like most spy-fi/thriller movies, the actual details of the plot are perhaps needlessly convoluted, but things make enough sense as you are conveyed from point A to B to C that even if you can’t make sense of it a few hours later, at the time it’s not a bad ride.

To a certain extent, this movie appealed to me by just making some unexpected story and casting decisions that were entirely too charming. Of the four main characters in the movie? Nick Hathaway, played by an only muscular rather than positively Asgardian Chris Hemsworth, is the only white guy. Of the other three, we have FBI Agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis), and Chinese super computer nerd siblings Chen Dawai and Chen Lien (Leehom Wang and Wei Tang respectively). The opening conceit of the film is the Chinese and Americans teaming up to stop an evil hacker, with the Chinese siblings acting as the real heart of the team instead of it all orbiting Chris Hemsworth’s muscular mass. That was definitely an unexpected turn, since the first few minutes of the movie were shot more like the Chinese might be the villains. When Nick and Lien end up sleeping together (because of course they do) Dawai doesn’t act like a macho shithead, but rather has a reasonable and adult conversation with Nick about his concerns in regards to the fact that if their mission fails, Nick goes back to prison and that would kind of suck for Lien–all without demanding dramatically that the two break up. The hackers work with command lines rather than ridiculous, fancy GUIs, and much of what they do is accomplished by just being clever bastards rather than brute forcing things. (Eg: At one point Nick gets a password by tricking someone into changing their password and using a keylogger.)

Leehom Wang and Viola Davis were the standouts of the cast; it’s refreshing to see Davis in such a different role for her and she plays it well. (Favorite line of the movie is when she looks disbelieving at Nick’s attempt to be cool and says, exasperaed,  “Chica? Do I look hispanic to you?”)

All of that? Exceedingly charming. It’s those unexpected factors that made me willing to forgive a lot of the weaknesses, and are what stand out in my mind even now when, over a week later, I couldn’t tell you what the hell most of the plot actually involved, other than noting that the romance between Nick and Lien comes out of the blue and makes about as much sense as some of the more tortured jargon. That’s perhaps the biggest problem, is that the plot has only one twist startling enough to stand out, while the rest is a little too caught up in spy novel intricacy without having quite as much driving tension as less arcane spy movies. While it’s refreshing to hit several points in a movie where you go Oh, that’s not what I expected, I can’t help but think the best definition for a movie is being able to tell you what it is as opposed to what it isn’t and then the rest being fairly unmemorable. But fun, worth watching, and and I think worth watching again to see if more of the plot sticks this time.

The fights (with a bit too much steadicam for my tastes, rendering them almost incoherent as those in the Bourne Supremacy) are short, indelicate, and brutal, which is something I’ve come to appreciate in movies that are trying to be a bit more gritty and realistic. That’s the tone the movie goes for, gritty and dark and more than a bit brooding at times, though the use of the various cities and the urban color scheme are gorgeous. More of those and less of the Tron-esque watching light track through circuit boards, which was baffling as to what it really meant to add. As for the hacking? I don’t know enough about computers any more to actually say how silly it was. But I think the most unrealistic part of the entire movie was actually a man inserting a USB drive into his computer on the first try.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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