Blackhat and the alienation of Michael Mann: When Hawkeye turned into Hathaway

Posted in Movies, Reviews with tags , , , , , on January 22, 2015 by Sarah

Michael Mann is a difficult filmmaker. His style is ugly on purpose, especially since he started playing with digital cameras while making Ali in 2000, and he isn’t particularly interested in engaging the audience. On the surface, he makes action movies, but his movies, even the less-good ones—I don’t think Michael Mann ever really makes a bad movie, just one that’s less good than the others—are never just an action movie. Blackhat, Mann’s first movie since 2009’s Public Enemies, looks like any run of the mill action-thriller, and by rights ought to have been terrible (certainly most people thought it was anyway).


But Blackhat is not terrible. Oh sure, it’s unpleasant. It’s ugly as sin to look at times, and the cybercrime plot is inherently uninteresting. Hackers and the virtual world are just not visually engaging, and despite an effort at rendering the micro-processes of computers with some sort of style, Mann does not solve that problem. Blackhat has an unexpected twist up its sleeve, though, one that makes it worth salvaging as an artifact of Mann’s career—it’s a 21st century update of The Last of the Mohicans, one of Mann’s most popular and accessible films. The twist is that unlike Mohicans, which is very interested in engaging its audience, Blackhat doesn’t care at all if people actually like it. Blackhat, more than any Mann movie to date, represents a filmmaker alienated from his audience.



To be clear, even if history revises Blackhat upward—as it did with Thief and Manhunter—it will never be anything but a minor work in Mann’s oeuvre. It has problems, chief among them the boring visual nature of cybercrime, that will keep it from the ranks of the more-good Michael Mann movies. But after reading a slew of terrible reviews and then seeing the movie, I had to ask myself—when did everyone decide to stop liking Michael Mann? Blackhat has problems, yes, but it’s also quintessentially a Mann movie. Mann’s style is on full display—down and dirty digital lensing, jets, cars, gun fights, lone wolf heroes, beautiful smart women, doomed lovers, it’s all there. And Mann’s philosophical curiosity remains intact as well—divisions and boundaries melting away as technology advances, the constraints men put on women, and unique to Blackhat, the role of geopolitics within the world of cybercrime, which often knows no country.

Pictured: Nothing interesting.

Not Pictured: Something interesting.

The Last of the Mohicans and Blackhat are, at heart, the same story set in disparate eras. They’re both “doomed lovers on the run” narratives, with the loner hero having an edge because he is the Most Superior with a specific piece of technology, and his love interest chafes against the boundaries placed on her by men. It’s not a big leap from Hawkeye to Blackhat’s Hathaway—their echo-chamber names cannot be coincidental—which is when the improbable casting of towering blonde Adonis-monster Chris Hemsworth as Hathaway started to make sense. In Mohicans, Daniel Day-Lewis brought an overwhelming physicality to Hawkeye, and Hemsworth does the same for Hathaway. Hemsworth as an elite hacker isn’t that odd when Hathaway is read as a modern-day Hawkeye.

Exhibit A.

Exhibit A.

Like Hawkeye, Hathaway begins the film in isolation. As the white adopted son of a Mohican man, Hawkeye’s isolation is metaphorical; Hathaway’s, however, is literal—he’s in prison. Their conflicts are similar, too. Hawkeye is forced into an uncomfortable truce with people who loathe and fear him, and so is Hathaway, furloughed from prison to help the FBI. But with Hawkeye there is a sense of hope to his conflict, a feeling that if he can survive, everything just might work out. Sure, his post-narrative future with the resourceful Cora (Madeleine Stowe) will be a hard, fraught life on a brutal frontier, but men like Hawkeye—self-determining alphas who live beyond the bounds of society—excelled in that place and time. Twenty-three years later, that hope is gone from Hathaway’s similarly “happy” ending. The final image of Hawkeye and Cora looking out over their frontier at the end of Mohicans is inspiring; the image of Hathaway and his similarly resourceful partner, Lien (Tang Wei, Lust, Caution), is much less comforting as they’re observed making their getaway on surveillance cameras. They’re the watched, not the watchers.

Exhibit B.

Exhibit B.

Perhaps the closest analog for the filmmaker in a Mann movie, Hathaway is alienated and alienating. He’s hemmed in by technology as much as he’s freed by it, as is Mann. He was an early auteur aboard the digital train, but it seems he’s the only one exploring what digital can do that celluloid film can’t. From the onset of the technology the goal has been to make digital cinematography look “as good” as film. That’s not bad, in and of itself; some filmmakers have created very beautiful and rich results with digital, such as Roger Deakins’s work on Skyfall or Harris Savides lensing Zodiac. But Mann isn’t interested in polish. Grit and grain are an intrinsic part of his visual language, a physical representation of his unique, unglamorous examination of crime and criminals. Miami Vice has the same grainy, ugly video look to it that sucks all the 1980’s neon glitz out of a drug war cautionary tale. Blackhat is ugly, so too is the world of cyberterrorism.


Blackhat is not for everyone. It’s not slick, it’s not polished, it’s not interested in being your friend. But it earns its place in Mann’s continuing study of crime and criminals. Once, it was bank robbers and thieves, now it’s hackers and terrorists. That cybercrime is not visually interesting to watch is a problem, one Mann doesn’t overcome. Because of that, Blackhat feels less like an achievement and more like a stepping stone as Mann tries to get a handle on modern crime sagas that involve more computers than guns. Hopefully, we’ll get to see the next movie in that chain, but I’m not sure what the future holds for Mann. More than any other contemporary American filmmaker, it seems we’ve lost patience with his style and interests. It feels like we’re leaving Michael Mann behind, and that is not a good thing.

Fashion Friday Fun Post: Golden Globes 2015

Posted in Celebrities, Event with tags , , , , on January 16, 2015 by Sarah

I haven’t done one of these in forever!

Best Dressed

It was a boring night for fashion so it’s not like anything here was a jaw-dropping fashion moment, but these are the people who managed the best individual style for the night.

Lorde is my favorite in a Narciso Rodriguez tux with a crop top. I like that she’s learning to find eveningwear to fit her style, and not changing her style to fit into eveningwear. Also, I love that the tux isn’t body-con. Tina Fey wore a pretty great tux, too, but I’m giving Lorde the points for going with the wide leg and menswear jacket. Julianne Moore in Givenchy had the best silver/grey of the night, Laura Carmichael managed the best “not a nominee but still happy to be here” look in James Galanos, and Allison Tolman proved it’s possible to look beautiful and stylish when you’re not a size two in a Gauri and Nainika gown. Melissa McCarthy should take notes. Jessica Chastain had a personal best with a plunging Versace gown that was also the best boobs-out display of the night, and finally, Ruth Wilson’s “inside out” Prada was the closest thing to a gasp-worthy dress for the night.

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One day, the Academy will be embarrassed about snubbing Selma

Posted in Movies, Reviews with tags , , , , , on January 15, 2015 by Sarah

Before we go any further, just a reminder that this is your average Academy voter:


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TV Recap: Agent Carter 1.3

Posted in Reviews, TV with tags , , , on January 14, 2015 by Sarah

In its third episode, Marvel’s Agent Carter builds on the solid start of its doubled-down premiere and accomplishes in three episodes what Agents of SHIELD hasn’t quite managed to do in one and a half seasons—become a fun, engaging, must-watch hour of nerd TV. Agent Carter is doing so much to expand and shade in various corners of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and beyond that, it’s giving us the female superhero we’ve all been dying to see. Because while she might not have superpowers, Peggy Carter is CLEARLY a superhero.

Pictured: Badass

Pictured: Badass

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20 Most Anticipated Films of 2015

Posted in Movies, Previews with tags , , , , , , on January 12, 2015 by Sarah

In which I attempt to employ better formatting than in previous installments of this feature.

American Ultra

I really enjoy Adventureland, so I’m excited to see Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart re-team, this time in a comedy about a stoner (Eisenberg) who becomes the target of a government operation that forces him on the lam with his girlfriend (Stewart). Written by Max Landis (Chronicle and Victor Frankenstein, also on this list), and co-starring Connie Britton, Walton Goggins, and Tony Hale, I’m hoping this is the comedy hit 30 Minutes or Less didn’t quite manage to be.

Avengers: Age of Ultron


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TV Recap: Agent Carter 1.1-2

Posted in Reviews, TV with tags , , , , , on January 7, 2015 by Sarah

Last night was the two-hour premiere of Marvel Studios’ latest TV venture, Agent Carter, a spin-off series starring Captain America’s main squeeze, Peggy Carter. It’s the second network show for Marvel, following last year’s Agents of SHIELD, and since there are only eight episodes in what is being billed as a “limited series”—aka, “we’re not planning on renewing this unless it’s REALLY popular”—I’ll be recapping episodes each week. Let’s start with this two-hour premiere, which set up Peggy’s post-World War II, post-Captain America life in New York.

agent carter title card

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Winter Movie Preview: January 2015

Posted in Movies, Previews with tags , , , on January 6, 2015 by Sarah

January 2

A Most Violent Year

From writer/director JC Chandor, who’s on a roll with Margin Call and All is Lost. The way Jessica Chastain says, “This was very disrespectful,” makes my life.


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