Sep 26, 2014 · 2 minutes


Cybercrime thrillers have been around since, well... since regular people still used words like "cyber."

The genre's earliest films, like 1995's "The Net," played on America's fear of the unknown: There was no telling how damaging or even deadly this brand new technology called "The Internet" would be. In retrospect, "The Net" and its sister movie "Hackers" are a trip to watch, dripping in nostalgia for DOS screens and roller blades. But the fears and anxieties they played upon bore little resemblance to any actual threats the Internet posed to our livelihoods -- at least not in 1995.

But today, we know our enemies. The so-called "Heartbleed" bug threatened the security of up to two-thirds of the Web. The newly-discovered Shellshock bug may be even worse. Sophisticated computer worms like Stuxnet can perform far more disastrous tasks than merely stealing your password or social security number -- they can disrupt the electromechanical operations of nuclear facilities. This is no longer the stuff of science fiction.

So the time is ripe for a revival. And after watching the trailer for "Blackhat," I'm cautiously optimistic it could usher the "cyber-thriller" into 2014 where it always belonged.

Here's the basic plot, and please bear with me because it's a little terrible: A mysterious cyberterrorist has launched a full-scale attack against America's financial infrastructure. An incarcerated MIT-educated hacker, described as a "genius coder," is released from federal prison under the condition that he identify and apprehend the person behind the cyber-assault.

Normally I would recommend steering clear of a film with a premise so lazy and overdone. At best, it would produce a piece of serviceable yet forgettable popcorn entertainment like "Hackers" or "The Net." At worst? Have you ever seen the movie "Swordfish"?

But the reason to be excited about the just-released trailer boils down to one name: Michael Mann.

As one of the few American directors that really justifies the label "visionary," Mann is the kinetic and visual auteur behind modern masterpieces like "Heat," "Manhunter," and "The Insider." He also directed "Last of the Mohicans" and "Collateral" -- that films as good as those are almost considered afterthoughts in the director's ouevre proves just how impressive Mann's career has been.

While the trailer hints at the kind of staggering action set-pieces Mann is perhaps best known for, the film of his I hope "Blackhat" will most resemble is the quiet, slow-burn of "The Insider." That film, which told the true story of Big Tobacco whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand, trusted audiences to keep up as it immersed viewers in the legal and scientific complexities of the case. And with so many "hacker" and "tech" movies devolving into sensationalism and farce, I hope Mann spent as much time talking to hackers to capture the rhythms and dynamics of their culture as he did talking to cops and convicts when preparing to make "Heat."

Watch the full trailer below: