Blackhat (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Jan 15, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Blackhat (4K UHD Review)


Michael Mann

Release Date(s)

2015 (November 27, 2023)


Legendary Pictures/Forward Pass/Universal (Arrow Video)
  • Film/Program Grade: See Below
  • Video Grade: See Below
  • Audio Grade: See Below
  • Extras Grade: B+
  • Overall Grade: B+

Blackhat (4K UHD)

Buy it Here!


Blackhat was Michael Mann’s return to feature filmmaking after a six-year gap following Public Enemies in 2009. It’s also a return to the milieu of films like Thief and Heat, but exchanging the world of high-line thieves for cybercriminals instead. Unlike those films, everything is primarily from the point-of-view of the FBI investigation into the crimes, and they utilize someone with an insider’s perspective in order get inside the minds of the hackers. So in that respect, Blackhat returns to the world of Manhunter as well. It also offers Mann’s usual emphasis on professionals who are the best at what they do regardless of what side of the law that they occupy. With all of those familiar Michael Mann elements in place, and Chris Hemsworth as the lead, Blackhat should have been a slam dunk. Yet it failed to find an audience in 2015, and the reviews were mixed at best. Still, as with much of the rest of Mann’s filmography, first impressions aren’t always accurate ones, and Blackhat is well worth a second look, especially in Mann’s inevitable director’s cut revision. (This is one case where his endless tinkering isn’t necessarily a bad thing.)

Mann’s interest in the subject matter was piqued by the Stuxnet cyberattacks against various control systems in 2010, that included nuclear centrifuges in Iran. He developed the screenplay along with writer Morgan Davis Foehl, drawing heavily from the experiences of various technical advisors. In that respect, the making of Blackhat is a throwback to Thief, where Mann’s script was inspired by the experiences of real high-line thieves like John Santucci. The narratives in Mann’s films often flow organically out of the research that he does first, and Blackhat is no exception to the rule. The final story involves Chinese cyberterrorism specialists Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang) and Chen Lien (Tang Wei) teaming up with FBI agents Carol Barrett (Viola Davis) and Mark Jessup (Holt McCallany) in order to track down the hackers responsible for attacks against the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and a nuclear power plant in Hong Kong. To do so, they need help from the person who originally wrote some of the code that the hackers used: Nick Hathaway, currently serving time for cybercrimes of his own. That sets everyone on an international chase to stop the hackers before the true scope of their plans are revealed. Blackhat also stars John Ortiz, Ritchie Coster, and Yorick van Wageningen.

Nick Hathaway definitely serves as the Will Graham character in Blackhat, a person who’s trying to get inside the minds of the hackers in order to predict their next move. Yet unlike Graham, Hathaway was already a part of that world, so he’s not tainted by his experiences. Instead, he remains a professional cybercriminal who only switched sides in order to gain his own freedom. Yet as the story progresses, he displays previously hidden depths, and he ends up gaining the grudging respect of his American and Chinese governmental counterparts. They’re not exactly punters, either, and they display unique skills of their own—for example, Carol Barrett may represent the FBI establishment, but she gains the respect of Chen Dawai when she smoothly (and ruthlessly) applies pressure to a representative of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in order to gain access to the information that they need.

All of that professionalism fits well into Mann’s wheelhouse, but he does arguably push his luck a bit too far with the character of Hathaway. It’s plausible that Hathaway is a highly skilled hacker, but he ends up displaying fighting skills that don’t necessarily correspond to his background. There’s a brief dialogue exchange where Hathaway says that he trained at the “gladiator academy” while serving time, but his talents go way beyond those of a prison brawler at a few key points in the film, especially during the climactic fight. It’s a case where Mann’s insistence on having actors learn the proper way to handle themselves and their props resulted in a character who’s a bit too good to be believable. That’s a relatively minor misstep, however. Whatever flaws that Blackhat may have, when viewed from the perspective of Mann’s lifelong exploration of individuals who are consummate professionals regardless of what side of the law that they operate on, it’s a worthy addition to his filmography.

Michael Mann is notorious for tinkering with films after they’ve been completed, sometimes repeatedly, and Blackhat is no exception. The differences are pretty significant this time. The director’s cut offers plenty of his usual minor additions and subtractions that don’t necessarily affect the film as a whole too strongly, but the biggest tweak is moving the hack at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange up to the beginning of the film where he originally intended it to go. For the theatrical cut, he ended up swapping it with the nuclear reactor hack instead, probably out of the desire to start things off with a literal bang. The problem was that the rest of the film was never intended to be structured that way, so restoring the Exchange to the beginning and the reactor back to the middle of the film makes everything flow much more evenly and logically. Some of the rest of the changes in the director’s cut are a mixed bag, but this one is a definite improvement.

Cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh captured Blackhat digitally primarily using ARRI ALEXA ST and XT-M cameras with Vantage Film Hawk V-Lite 1.3x anamorphic lenses and anamorphic-modified Angénieux Optimo zoom lenses, which offered a 2.40:1 aspect ratio when paired with the 16:9 area of the ALEXA’s full 4:3 image sensor. Additional footage was captured with Red Scarlet, Canon EOS 5D Mark II, and Canon EOS 7D cameras with spherical Canon EF lenses; Vision Research Phantom Flex cameras; and GoPro Hero3s. Dryburgh also used the P+S Technik Skater Scope periscope system with Zeiss Standard Speed prime lenses. The ARRIRAW footage was at 2.8K resolution, while the rest varied from 2K to 4K. Post-production work was completed as a 2K Digital Intermediate in the full DCI P3 color space. For this version, the 2K DPX master data files were upscaled to 4K and graded in High Dynamic Range for both Dolby Vision and HDR10 by David Mackenzie at Fidelity in Motion.

Interestingly enough, Blackhat was Michael Mann’s first anamorphic production since Heat in 1995. His film-based projects after that used Super-35, and the digital ones were also cropped to achieve the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Yet Mann has also enthusiastically embraced the look of digital video, so while Blackhat may be anamorphic, it still retains the digital quality of films like Miami Vice and Public Enemies. There are no LUTs here that mimic the look of film. That means that everything is sharp and crystal-clear, with maybe a bit of noise in some of the darker shots but no simulated grain anywhere else to mask the detail. There definitely isn’t true 4K detail visible here, but this still shows the advantage of upscaling at the uncompressed source, especially when the capture resolutions were higher than 2K. The new HDR grade strengthens the contrast range over what the Blu-ray can offer, with deep blacks that still reveal as much detail as possible. The colors are bold wherever appropriate—the lights on the stock exchange board are now noticeably more intense. All of the improvements here are incremental ones, but they’re still clearly visible.

Since the director’s cut is available on Blu-ray only, it doesn’t share those advantages. It’s still a strong presentation of the film by 1080p SDR standards, but it lacks the crispness, clarity, and contrast of the 4K theatrical and international cuts.

Audio is offered in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English SDH subtitles. Anyone who may be disappointed in the lack of an Atmos remix needs to remember just how much that filmmakers like Christopher Nolan and Michael Mann can wring out of the 5.1 format. The gunfight in Heat is just as impressive now as it ever was, even without the extra channels of modern mixes. That’s no less true of Blackhat, either. It’s a nicely immersive 5.1 mix that surrounds the viewer with the sounds of the various locations. There’s plenty of deep bass, and fans of Heat will recognize the reverberating gunfire during Blackhat’s extended gunfight.

Note that the director’s cut does fix some minor audio issues that resulted from the last-minute editing in the theatrical cut, and it also eliminates the bad dubbing that had to be added in order to cover the changes, so the dialogue sounds smoother. The flip side is that the audio on the director’s cut disc is mastered at a significantly lower level. Taken as a whole, the pluses and minuses cancel each other out. In terms of overall sound quality, the theatrical cut has a slight edge due to improved dynamics, but the fixes in the director’s cut make everything flow better.


Arrow’s 4K Ultra HD Limited Edition release of Blackhat is a two-disc set that includes a Blu-ray with the director’s cut of the film. The UHD offers both the theatrical cut and the slightly shorter international cut via seamless branching. The insert is reversible, featuring new artwork by Douglas John Miller on one side and the theatrical artwork on the other. There’s also a slipcover and a 16-page booklet with an essay by Andrew Graves. The following new and archival extras are included on the UHD only, all of them in standard HD:

  • Audio Commentary by Bryan Reesman and Max Evry
  • Firewall (18:44)
  • Zero Day Threat (30:33)
  • Archival Extras:
    • The Cyber Threat (13:02)
    • On Location Around the World (9:30)
    • Creating Reality (17:01)
  • Image Gallery (16 in all)

The new commentary pairs critics Bryan Reesman and Max Evry. They provide some much-needed context regarding the state of cybersecurity when Mann made Blackhat, and discuss the cyberattacks that inspired the film. They note what Mann got right, and what he may have gotten wrong, including a discussion about the weirdly contradictory nature of Chris Hemsworth’s character. They also note the contradictory nature of the film itself, which they feel is filled with Michael Mann tropes but in some ways a partial break from them. There’s a bit of detail about the making of the film here, but it’s mostly of an external sort—for example, they cover very public controversy over Harry Gregson-Williams’s music barely being used in the final cut. While an insider commentary by Mann himself would have been preferable, this is still well worth a listen.

Firewall is an interview with Stuart Dryburgh, who says that the look of Blackhat was driven by the locations. He does offer a bit of technical information regarding the equipment that he used, but he’s more interested in talking about his general approach to each scene. The mix of footage didn’t naturally mix together very well, so Dryburgh says that colorist Stefan Sonnenfeld was critical in making it all work in the final cut. Cinematographers tend to get overlooked in many extras packages, so it’s nice to see Dryburgh getting his time in the sun here. Zero Day Threat is an interview with production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas, who says that with a production as complex as Blackhat, the production designer ends up being involved with much more than the sets—locations, costumes, props, etc. Dyas starts by describing his own background, and then goes on to detail his work with Mann. Mann had already done much of the necessary research, so Dyas had a good foundation to build on, but he still figured out ways to add to what Mann had done—right down to designing a utility belt with anything that Mann might want.

The archival extras are all featurettes that were included with the original Blu-ray release of Blackhat. They offer behind-the scenes footage and film clips mixed with interviews. Participants include cast and crew like Michael Mann, Guy Hendrix Dyas, Chris Hemsworth, Wang Leehom, Viola Davis, Ritchie Coster, and Tang Wei, plus consultants like mathematician Christopher McKinlay, PhD, former FBI agent Michael Panico, and nuclear hazard expert Julie Atwood. The Cyber Threat examines the real-world nature of hacking and how it’s presented in the film; On Location Around the World shows the logistical challenges of shooting in so many different locations across the globe; and Creating Reality describes how the characters and story were built by first understanding the world that they were going to inhabit.

There’s no getting around the fact that it’s a shame that Arrow couldn’t include the director’s cut on UHD. The reality is that it was a last-minute addition to the package, so it was the best that they could do, and it’s great to be getting that cut in any form. Better to have it than not to have it. Still, it does create a dilemma. The 4K picture quality of the theatrical cut is superior, but the 1080p director’s cut is a better version of the film. The reality is that it’s probably well worth the time to watch both versions in order to compare them, but you’ll have some decisions to make regarding the best way to revisit Blackhat down the road. First world problems. Regardless, Arrow’s 4K Limited Edition release of Blackhat is a must-own for Michael Mann fans.

- Stephen Bjork

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