Director: Michael Mann.
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Tang Wei, Wang Leehom.
Rating: *** (out of *****).
Length: 120 minutes.
Opening: Now showing.
Plot: Set within the world of global cybercrime, Blackhat follows the story of a furloughed black hat (slang for hacker) convict Nicholas Hathaway (Hemsworth) and his American and Chinese partners as they hunt for a high-level cybercrime network from Chicago to Los Angeles, in the United States, to Hong Kong to Malaysia and finally Jakarta, Indonesia.
WE are no longer in control” is the tag line of the movie and it presents a reality that could very well come to pass. In October 2012, American defence secretary Leon E Panetta warned that the US was facing the possibility of a “cyber-Pearl Harbor” and was increasingly vulnerable to foreign computer hackers who could dismantle the nation’s power grid, transport system, financial networks, and government.
Blackhat proves this is very possible. Director Mann sets out to demonstrate how actions derived from ones and zeroes in the virtual world can produce some very devastating consequences in the physical world, and to show his audience how hacking really works. The film touches on a lot of the cybersecurity issues that concern real cybersecurity experts.
The movie sees Chinese military cyber expert Chen (Leehom) analysing computer codes that sparked an explosion at a Chinese nuclear power plant. He then realises that the codes are modified from the ones that he and his roommate created during their Masschusetts Institute of Technology college days. Chen approaches his network engineer sister (Tang Wei) to help him and they travel to the US to work with the FBI. Chen tells the FBI they need to release Hathaway to help find the cybercriminal because Hathaway was the lead writer of those codes and Chen can’t complete the codes without the lead writer.
Without spoiling the plot, Blackhat follows the FBI as its works with the hackers. At one point, Hathaway realises that the nuclear power explosion was a practice shot and the hacker is planning an even bigger attack on infrastructure that could cripple international major power players.
Of course, there is the underlying love story and exaggerated exchanges of gunfire between the good and bad guys. Predictably, many characters are killed as the movie climaxes. However, it is interesting to note how the world is connected via mere cables, and how easy it can be to bring down corporations and governments with just a touch of a button. Somewhere towards the end of the movie, Malaysia makes its debut. The five-minute-or-less scene shows a Perak landmine, but the silver lining is that Malaysia is not reflected negatively in the flick.
It is said that Mann had actual known hackers to serve as consultants for the movie thus crediting some merit in some hacking scenes. Besides watching the drool-worthy Leehom and Hemsworth combine their skills, physically fight bad guys and break codes on the computer, the overall plot is only a so-so.
This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on January 15, 2015.