U.S. Release Date: 1/16/15
It was “Stuxnet,” a carefully constructed and weaponized code responsible for bringing down a uranium enrichment plant in Iran, that first got Michael Mann, the director of the new cyber thriller Blackhat, very interested in the world of high level hacking.
“It took over the Iranian centrifuges in a nuclear facility at Natanz, and it was the world’s first stealth drone,” says the helmer of films such as Heat, Collateral and Miami Vice. “I say ‘stealth’ because it attacked, but the effect of its hit wouldn’t be known for 18 months after it hit.”
Mann says anyone with a fast computer, regardless of their location in the world, can easily create worms such as “Stuxnet.”
“He could be in the Bronx, Lagos or Mumbai.”
Mann says the high typically experienced by blackhat hackers, people capable of hacking what is supposed to be high level internet security, is not unlike the satisfaction experienced by gamers.
“The difference is that, for a hacker, it’s a reverse escapism. The positive feedback loop- type satisfaction—almost an opiated experience— is the same; the difference is that, for the gamer, the outcome is in the virtual world. For the hacker, it occurs in the physical, material, real world. His or her manipulation of code has a real and kinetic reaction. And that’s some of the high.”
Less than two months after the devastating cyber attack on Sony Pictures, Blackhat, which probably couldn’t be more topical, is about to hit theatres.
Australian born Chris Hemsworth, best known as Marvel’s Thor, plays Nicholas Hathaway, a college drop out turned hacker, who is serving a 15 year stretch in the slammer after hacking into the US banking system and stealing millions of bucks.
However, when a nuclear reactor, located in Hong Kong, suddenly melts down, Chen Dawai (Wang Leehom) who heads up a special Chinese cyber crimes team, pushes for Hathaway’s release, believing that his longtime buddy and former college roommate is the best person to stop the hacker. It turns out that the cyber perp was using special code originally written by Hathaway and Dawai.
Not long after the Hong Kong attack, the same hacker targets Wall Street, prompting Hathaway’s release into the custody of two FBI agents (Viola Davis and Holt McCallany). Meanwhile, top hacker Lien (Tang Wei), who also happens to be Dawai’s kid sister, plays the role of Hathaway’s romantic flame.
In making the movie, which spans Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia, Mann wanted to highlight society’s open vulnerability to cyber piracy.
“We live in what we think is a compartmentalized world in which there is something called privacy,” Mann says in a recent interview with Variety. “A better analogy is that we’re living in a house where all the doors and windows are open and we’re in a very dangerous neighborhood, but we don’t know it.”
Back in 2011, during the film’s initial research stages, Mann consulted with a number of experts who had been unable to convince corporations, highly sceptical that their security could be compromised, to increase their security protocols.
“Now it’s out in the open and it’s very apparent,” he says during the same interview. “There’s no such thing as an electronic iron curtain. There’s no security consultant who’s going to show up and say, ‘Your home is completely secure. You have nothing to worry about.’ That’s not going to happen.”
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Michael Mann
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Tang Wei, Viola Davis, Ritchie Coster, Holt McCallany, John Ortiz, Yorick Van Wageningen and Wang Leehom
Screenwriters: Morgan Davis Foehl
Producers: Thomas Tull, Michael Mann and Josh Jashni
Executive Producers: Eric McLeod and Alex Garcia
Image Info: (L to R) Nicholas Hathaway (CHRIS HEMSWORTH), Chen Lien (TANG WEI) and Deputy U.S. Marshal Mark Jessup (HOLT MCCALLANY)Photo Credit: Frank Connor/Legendary Pictures and Universal Pictures. Copyright: © 2015 Legendary Pictures and Universal Pictures.ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Sources: Variety and Universal Pictures’ Production Information