Monday, March 16, 2015

Michael Mann's biggest fan reviews Blackhat

I have the words "time is luck" tattooed on my arm.

Only obsessive Michael Mann fans will get the reference. But the fact that I'd ink those words on my body goes to show just how much I connect with the director's movies. The release of Blackhat, Mann's first film in half a decade, was the equivalent of a national holiday for me.

It's a gorgeous film. No one shoots urban environments like Michael Mann. The Far East streets and Hong Kong cityscapes are quite literally the most breathtaking visuals ever put on screen. And when Mann retires, no one should be allowed to film a firefight ever again. (Except Christopher McQuarrie and the guys who did John Wick.)

I will doubtlessly watch it again. But something felt off about it. Lots of things, in fact.

First (and most obviously) there was Thor. Mann usually forces his stars to run away from any leading man egotism that'll prevent them from inhabiting their role. He had Russell Crowe put on 35 pounds of blubber. Got Tom Cruise to dye his hair silver. And convinced Colin Ferrell to grow a mustache, throw greaseball hair in a ponytail, and develop a series of OCD ticks that show just how out-of-control his undercover cop character really is. But Blackhat's Chris Hemsworth looks a whole lot like Chris Fucking Hemsworth. He's the only man alive who could play the Norse God of Thunder in The Avengers, and he's the least believable hacker nerd in the world. Hemsworth's Nick Hathaway is a man perpetually in control, a tall and blond hero who happens to be naturally perfect at everything - guns, girls and geekery. There's never a doubt he'll own the real world with the same ease he rips through the virtual one.

I'm far from the only person who believes Hemsworth was miscast. But there are other issues I have that only longtime Mann fans will pick up on.

In Mann's movies, men are planets and violence is the sun they orbit around. Women are something like the moon. They're specters strong enough to alter the tides, but without enough gravity to change the nature of the universe. They represent the promise of a different life that these mid-level cops and crooks will never really be able to live. Blackhat is more cliched. Dreamy guy meets dreamy girl. They go ga-ga.

And what happened to Mann's legendary obsession with minutia? What tactical team on the face of the planet would allow a convict computer nerd to lead their raids? Why does a bad guy who can pilfer $74 million on a lazy afternoon need to create a global catastrophe to steal the next $74 million? Where the hell did Hemsworth lay his hands on fitted slacks in the middle of Southeast Asia?

The whole thing just feels hacked together, like one of those Octopussy-era Bond flicks.

And the dialogue? Mann's characters typically don't talk much. When they do, it means something. But Blackhat spews tough-guy cliches. "What are you after, you son of a bitch?"

I'm not sure what happened to Mann. Since the glory days of Collateral and Heat, he's seemed a little lost. And that makes me sad. Mann is 71. At a pace of one movie every six years, we might get one more film. Maybe none. I can get over a mediocre movie. But I hate to think we might never get another great one.

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