Blackhat – A Review

Editor’s Note: Dan Lacey is a TRC Training Supervisor at WhiteHat Security and he recently blogged about the new move ‘Blackhat’ which was released in the theaters on Jan. 16 on his own personal blog. We have republished his movie review here as we are sure that many of our readers might be considering this movie as part of their upcoming entertainment plans. Please note, there are some spoilers in the following post. Enjoy!

As a WhiteHat hacker, I knew I needed to see a movie called Blackhat. As a movie buff, I dreaded seeing a movie that looked, frankly, bad. Fortunately, I work for WhiteHat, who rented out a theater so that we could all see Hollywood’s latest portrayal of our profession. Watching it in company made the experience a whole lot more enjoyable!

Some of you know that I write movie reviews. I also know that not all of you joined us for the screening of Blackhat. To save you the wasted time, here is my review. Feel free to share. Link is http://www.whitefoxmoviereviews.com/2015/01/blackhat.html

Movies that are released in January are awful. Hacking movies are awful. Blackhat is a hacking movie released in January. It should be no surprise, therefore, that it is awful. What is a surprise is that the depiction of hacking was not one of the worst parts of the movie. The plot, editing, and cinematography are far worse.

The inciting incident (the nuclear power plant breach, which was shown in the trailer) isn’t actually particularly farfetched. Last year hackers did serious damage to a German steel factory by hacking with the controllers to a blast furnace, which melted down. The Stuxnet work destroyed a whole lot of Iranian centrifuges around 2010 (meta-source). Most of the rest of the hacking shown is phishing or social engineering, most of which is technically reasonable (though if I were designing a bank’s network, I would not connect the machines at the front desk to the financial systems).

Unfortunately, the plot wrapped around the hacking is not nearly as reasonable. The main characters all suffer from Jack Ryan Syndrome, in which an analyst or other technical asset suddenly turns into a competent field agent, including the ability to make long-distance pistol shots while under fire better than trained assassins. Nearly everything about who they are and what they do strains credulity. The villain has no motivation beyond “crazy” – and while that can be done well, this is not. The romance subplot is laughably bad. Wei Tang does a fine job of acting the character which was given to her, but that character exists in the plot for the sole reason of being the romantic interest, which is pretty pathetic. None of the other performances are worth mentioning, mostly because the characters are not interesting in the slightest.

Blackhat is 2 hours and 13 minutes long, and I’m not sure why. I think there might have been about an hour and a half of plot, maybe an hour 45 if I’m generous. Nearly every shot lasts ten seconds or so more than it needs to, though, which makes the movie drag terribly. Some of those shots are completely out of focus for no reason whatesoever. Action movies should not be boring, but this one is.

Worst of all, every single shot is so shaky that the movie is almost unwatchable. Long-time readers will know that I am not a fan of shakycam; this is some of the worst I’ve seen. Even in shots with no movement, the camera waves around nauseatingly. Action scenes are far, far worse.

There is no reason to watch this movie unless you’re a hacker, want to see how bad it is, are seeing it for free, and want a headache.

I take solace in the strong possibility that every movie I see for the remainder of the year will be better than this one.

  • Justin

    Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    I love how the main character claimed that he could crack 512-bit encryption in a month, and then is completely incapable of breaking into a “bulletproof”-hosted site.

    (Though, his method for gaining access to the provider’s building was entertaining.)

    • Justin

      My (less-than)facepalm(slash)(greater-than) got stripped out of my comment. 🙂