Blackhat: a Hacker’s Movie Review

(Not your average) Blackhat by heipei on Flickr

(Not your average) Blackhat by heipei on Flickr

Today’s review of Michael Mann’s “Blackhat” is by well-known activist and actor/producer Joe Fionda. Welcome to the Cryptosphere, Joe; I knew I’d break you eventually!

Blackhat” is an international hacker caper directed by Michael Mann, centering around a federally convicted hacker named Hathaway, played by Chris Hemsworth (Thor).

A prisoner, Hathaway is asked by the FBI, in exchange for a furlough, to aid the investigation into a hacking disaster: a Chinese nuclear reactor that causes a meltdown after a piece of software he coded years ago was re-appropriated for evil means. He gets partnered up with his old MIT friend, Chen Dawai played by Wenhom Lee, who is now a top military hacker for the Chinese PLA, being lead by FBI agent Carol Barrett, Viola Davis of NBC’s State of Affairs. Mann, who in the 90s directed heist thriller ‘Heat’ and investigative journalism epic ‘The Insider’, was probably the right sort of guy to make a movie about hackers that wasn’t totally unreasonable.

But as someone that made a documentary about hackers and investigative journalists, I can tell you that engaging the un-indoctrinated to the hacker-culture while making it more than just about finger strokes on the keyboard is nigh impossible. One also has to be able to believe that a hacker could install a remote access tool – properly called a RAT in the movie, but mentioned several times before how it works is actually explained – inside a nuclear reactor’s internal network to be able to control it from the confines of their own living room. This doesn’t seem remotely plausible, pun intended, and I would hope that this doesn’t change.

Hathaway, co-author of this RAT with Dawai, is an obvious shoutout to Stephen Watt aka Unix Terrorist, while more subtly channeling the defiant spirit of Jeremy Hammond. Agent Barrett of the FBI is a gentle reminder that Barrett Brown is still in jail. There are some great comedic moments, which peaked with a much needed trolling of the NSA. But by the time Hathaway pwns his adversary, whose afro for more than a second lead me to believe could have been Seth Rogen (but wasn’t), the need for the face-to-face ending sequence was rendered completely unnecessary except for visual theatrics and traded accusations over who is the bigger glorified carder. The cinematography also came off as chaotic & blurry, perhaps on purpose, as it was the first time Mann filmed with anamorphic lenses since Heat.

Overall, the movie is entertaining and worth a watch. However, it has none of the underground youthful exuberance of Hackers, and it certainly doesn’t hold a candle to The Insider or Mann’s other films. I expect that this film will be mercilessly ripped apart by the hacker community, and unnecessarily scaremonger a certain demographic of viewers to fear there is a wave of nuclear terrorist hackers coming, much like how Ronald Reagan took War Games to be the real thing and as if Kevin Mitnick was really able to whistle nuclear launch codes.

Joe Fionda is a New York based Italian-Irish American actor and associate producer of The Hacker Wars. When he isn’t creating lulz for film & TV he is editor & tech ops for globalrevolution.tv.

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Categories: Art, Crime, Crypto, Cyber, Hackers, Media, Movies, Movies, News, Reviews

4 replies

  1. Sounds like you didn’t like the film…..but he got it made! And….with a lot of money in hand to have the cast he has. Whatever Michael Mann does is generally good entertainment. Frankly, the general public that goes to see a film like this is looking for entertainment not a lesson in the pros of hacking.

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