Michael Mann's characters serve the image--an image of an action, or more to the point of characterization, the image of them as characters, as figures on-screen. Some options: arrange them as chess pieces (helicopter shot capturing stationary armed figures waiting on open floors of a building in construction); produce automatons (what if our remarkable hacker-hero is not only ruggedly good-looking, but a street-fighter and a folk philosopher--what would he do? how would he do it?); limn the dividing line between a strong, "round" character and a phantom, a cipher, or a body (a close-up of Wei Tang in a moment of adrenaline and grief). In short, the way bodies move or remain still in Mann's cinema, and the way that we are prompted to imbue them with psychology, is something utterly singular, rarely "realistic," occasionally ridiculous, and almost always in pursuit of a feeling that can't be named.

The marketing makes this a movie about Hemsworth, and in a way, yes, it follows the hero. But there is also something in the way of a network narrative, too, and the pleasures of supporting cast (Davis especially) are considerable. The action takes place like points on a grid, a common trope of global action & espionage movies, but also mirrored by the way Mann sometimes arranges actors. Restlessly, emboldened by the things one can do with a soundtrack, the movie goes from A to B in a way that feels clean and direct. It doesn't feign overall complexity in its plot (i.e., convoluted beats and twists); it instead packs complexity into details.

Mann, a remarkable craftsman, a risk-taker, is interested in the Real World but not in the same way as anyone else that comes to mind. And as a result his movies--BLACKHAT no exception--gamble upon the connection that might be established with the audience. The phenomenon of a filmmaker like this is strange: popular genres, popular stars, elements of popular style, and yet also completely winnowed, denatured, turned into something private, haunting, and weird. Maybe it's an acquired taste. Maybe that's why this film got shunted to the ghetto of a January release when it is much better than the majority of the Best Picture nominees. (Well, I haven't seen most of the Best Picture nominees. But I bet I'm still right.)

Even seeing this in a place with imperfect sound and a rather annoying green glow from the fire exit light, I found this a beautiful movie. The final shot in particular is moving and slightly aggravating for reasons I prefer to keep cryptic; suffice it to say that I left the theater feeling a rush of emotions.