Computer technologies, digital networks and interfaces, and mobile communications tend to intensify physical presence by paradoxically putting new emphasis on bodily knowing, communications, and tactile information.
—Brandon LaBelle, Background Noise
Michael Mann has finally made a film about idealist individuals. Or at least a film about those who break the patterns of the streams they live in, as opposed to accept the inexplicable systems that form their societies. Clouds form abstract shapes above cities, where rigid and jagged materials form distinct lines. Even the streets of Hong Kong and its endless bazaars simply look like a grid from above. There is complex theory and there is chaos theory. Mann knows the world is the former, but he can’t help but shoot his camera up toward the latter—searching the heavens for freedom.
Blackhat is Mann’s first feature film since 2009’s Public Enemies, which was a film about a rebel in a world where systems of organization were developed into making him simply an anomaly to be targeted and erased. The protagonist of Blackhat, Chris Hemsworth’s Hathaway, has yet to be erased, but now simply acts as another cog in a guarded system—he’s a hacker doing time in prisons, spending his days reading up on Foucault. He knows that simply because he’s surrounded by walls doesn’t mean the outside world is anything but a prison without them. When he first steps out onto the runway of an airport, he can only see material of grays and blacks, out of focus and without dimension. It’s simply a mass.
Then a hand grabs his arm, and everything becomes tangibly real.