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Film / Blackhat

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A very chilling message.

Hathaway: You have any idea how much progress you're gonna make on a strike this complex without someone like me? Zero.
Frank: This isn't a negotiation.
Hathaway: Well, I just made it one.

Blackhat is an action/thriller directed by Michael Mann that stars Chris Hemsworth and Tang Wei, with supporting roles from Viola Davis and Leehom Wang.

A nuclear power plant in China is hacked and its coolant pumps are destroyed without the systems notifying the workers. The Chinese government finds out that the hack was possible by using a Remote Access Tool (RAT) to create a backdoor and that the US also suffered an attack with a similar tool without ill effect. China wants the FBI to release the RAT so that their Chief of Cyber Security Chen Dawai (Wang) can look into it. The FBI hesitantly works with Chen, enlisting the help of their cyber security expert Carol Barrett (Davis), and gives into Chen's demand that convicted hacker Nicholas Hathaway (Hemsworth) be released to help to investigate who's behind the attacks, as the RAT was his tool.

The movie was released to theaters on January 16th, 2015.

Tropes Associated With Blackhat Include:

  • Badass Crew: Almost every character in their respective domains. Special points go to Barrett (who manages to intimidate a chief of the Mercantile Trade Exchange into giving the private information of thousands of investors to the government and a foreign power in less than 15 seconds), Hathaway (for being a tough hacker all-around) and Jessup (who manages to take down 4 of Kassar's men loaded for bear in the Quarry Bay's hit with just his 1911 before going down for good).
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Nicholas uses this to sneak into a server farm. Step one for said drill involved smashing half of the server farm's building with a truck, followed by walking past the emergency services as they dealt with it.
  • Big Bad: Sadak, the master evil hacker with the lots of money and hired mercenaries.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Hathaway and Lien foil Sadak's evil plans (he even manages to kill Sadak and Kassar and live to tell about it and keep the 74 million USD he took from Sadak), but Chen is dead—as are Carol Barrett and Mark Jessup, the FBI agents who would vouch for him. As such, he has to live in hiding from the NSA and China's agents for possibly the rest of his life, for hacking into BlackWidow and the death of Chen, who was a Chinese high-rank military official. And Lien also shares his fate, due to the fact that she was witness of the hack and part of the plan to kill Sadak and company. At least he's not back in prison.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Hathaway mentions at one point that he was forced to fight for his life a lot in prison; which ended up making him a spectacularly brutal close-quarters combat fighter (doubly so with a knife or shiv... like the sharpened screwdriver that he brings concealed to the final confrontation).
  • Combat Pragmatist: Everyone, as befits the gritty, criminal setting of the movie. Nicholas is a prime example, especially in the restaurant brawl, but Kassar has to take the cake. He rigs a sewer with Claymores after using it to escape, shredding a pursuing police squad. When he goes after the protagonists later on, he starts by blowing up their car.
  • Concealment Equals Cover: Repeatedly averted; bus shelters, cars and shipping containers may keep the heroes out of sight, but none of them stop incoming fire.
  • The Dragon: Kassar, a veteran of the Lebanese Civil War (Maronite Catholic, specifically), now explicitly working as a mercenary.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Barrett gets machine-gunned by Kassar and his cronies before she can even draw her gun.
  • Dueling Hackers: Nicholas and Sadak, the hacker that instigated the nuclear power plant failure.
  • Enhance Button: Zig-zagged.
    • In one scene, the characters are looking at a video camera footage but don't use the classic CSI enhance button to identify particular markings on a person.
    • In another, the characters make use of an NSA program to reconstruct a program from corrupted data.
  • Evil Counterpart: Hathaway and Sadak. Both are hackers and criminals, and both have a brutally practical view on life and society. The difference between them is that where Hathaway owns up his actions and styles himself as a typical fight-the-system hacker (never harming people), Sadak is deeply sociopathic (even to his companions) and only cares about making money and doing things his way.
  • Hollywood Encryption: Averted. Encrypted data comes across the team but both Nicholas and Chen nearly give up on the lead as it's using GPG encryption with a 512-bit key.
  • Hollywood Hacking: Mostly averted. Seen the Shown Their Work entry.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: In the final confrontation, Hathaway is very handy with a pistol for a hacker who has spent the last few years in jail. The film is silent on his previous firearms experience, but even if he was a shooter, he would have missed a lot of range time. Averted somewhat for his hand-to-hand fighting skills—see Chekhov's Skill above.
  • Jerk Ass Has A Point: The NSA official is depicted as being obstructive and petty for not allowing the team to use the Black Widow program. This overlooks the fact that neither he nor the NSA can be blamed for not wanting Chinese nationals - one of whom is a Captain in the PLA's cyber warfare unit - to get a look at anything so valuable, not to mention knowing how to access their wider database. One single collaboration, no matter how important, doesn't erase their fact their nations are still at odds and regularly commit espionage on each other.
  • Jump Scare: A rather nasty one when Chen is blown up in his car by Kassar.
  • Middle Eastern Terrorists: Kassar is an rare non-Islamic example of this trope, since he is an Lebanese Maronite Catholic mercenary as an veteran from the Lebanese Civil War.
  • My Sister Is Off-Limits: Downplayed. When Chen finds out that Hathaway and Lien are sleeping together he doesn't try to stop them, but he does tell Hathaway that the relationship doesn't have much of a future, even if Hathaway doesn't have to go back to jail. He's "damaged goods."
    • Played straight earlier in the film, when Lien is chatting up a guy in a bar, and Chen tells him to get lost (Lien complains Chen cost her a martini). Chen was there to get help from his sister in fighting the hacker, but still.
  • Non-Action Big Bad: Befitting a film where the main villain is a hacker, it turns out that the guy responsible for all this trouble is, essentially, a fat Dutch guy with a pen knife who lasts all of about five seconds once Nicholas gets close to him.
  • Only in It for the Money: Discussed as a motivation as to why the hackers are doing what they do. Turns out the villain's motive was to manipulate the stock market more than anyone ever had. Causing a meltdown on a Chinese nuclear reactor? Just practice. Probably causing wide-spread ecological damage and destroying villages that just happen to be close to some tin mines he wishes to flood? Collateral. Further Discussed to the point of subversion when Sadak outright says he doesn't need the money. He can always find another "bankroll", and his tone implies it wouldn't be difficult. He wants the notoriety and ego boost of having fucked over an entire nation and the world commodities market just because he can.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Chris Hemsworth does an admirable job attempting an American Southern accent (he's Australian, for those who don't know), but unfortunately he isn't completely successful in the endeavor.
  • Post-9/11 Terrorism Movie: Set itself up as one as Carol's motivation for going after the terrorist at all costs is because she lost her husband in 9/11. Rather fittingly, the last thing she sees before she dies is a tower.
  • Product Placement: The Android mobile OS is the only product that is said by name and is prominently featured.
  • Prisons Are Gymnasiums: When we first meet Hathaway, he's exercising on his cell. The fact he had to work out and get stronger or die is the Hand Wave given to why the super-hacker that created the RAT code Sadak is using is... well... Chris Hemsworth.
  • Recruiting the Criminal: Chen recruits Hathaway, a convicted hacker, to fight another hacker. Hathaway is released from jail for this mission.
  • Re-Cut: As with other Michael Mann movies, he made a director's cut where, among other things, the attack on the soy futures happens before the attack on the nuclear power plant.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Carol allows Nicholas to hack NSA because it's the best shot at finding the bad guy.
  • Shown Their Work: Michael Mann hired computer security experts and white hat hackers to ensure realism of the scenes where it mattered. This includes actual (if fake) source code, disassembly dumps, usage of real commands, and highly plausible techniques where "drops" happen. Mann also made Chris Hemsworth train to type like a real hacker would and take coding classes.
  • Sinister Spy Agency: This film has an example of "NSA Evil", or at least "NSA is Jerkass". It's not only revealed that they have a system that can reconstruct any apparently erased database named "Black Widow" (which is the device that put Hathaway in jail), but the agent who is Barrett's contact within it makes clear (in the most deadpan tone ever) he would rather let Sadak (a hacker who considers nuclear terrorism and demolishing trade markets simple "test runs" to his schemes) to remain free before allowing the Chinese any glimpses of America's info-warfare capabilities.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Ghost in the Shell. A print review in The Daily Telegraph says "Mann's film often feels like a live-action reimagining of that classic of cerebral melancholy."
  • SWAT Team: The Special Duties Unit is brought in to help the good guys after a OCTB teams gets wiped out by Kassar's men. They also ambush them in the storm drains by using mines to take them out.
  • Take That!: Nicholas ends up hacking the NSA. Big-time Catharsis Factor, after the recent scandals and controversies.
  • ¨Trial Run Crime: Sadak turned a Chinese nuclear reactor into Chernobyl Two just to see if his worm would affect a specific type of computer-controlled water pump to manipulate the tin market.
  • Viewer-Friendly Interface: Some extra elements were added for the viewer's benefit. For example, a scene where Nicholas issues a copy command from the command-line pops up a graphic (the command normally doesn't display anything).