This review may contain spoilers.
I only vaguely remembered this movie, mostly recalling how silly I found Hemsworth’s muscular hacker at the time. I can see the appeal of hacking-as-heist, but I think it is just a really difficult thing to translate to screen. A scene of clicking away at a terminal prompt doesn’t quite contain the same tension as seeing James Caan’s methodical safecracking scene to open Mann’s Thief.
When things do spring into physical action, like the gun battle/pursuit of Kassar (justice for Trang and his majestic arms!), you get that trademark Mann ebb-and-flow, bouncing between the frantic running of Trang/Chen/Hathaway to cut off Kassar, to the more static/methodical exchange of fire. There are moments in the pursuit where the camera work reminded me of Wong Kar-wai/Christopher Doyle’s smeary/dutch-angle collaborations.
I still wonder if the whole Chen Dawai/Hathaway/Chen Lien cluster works—it feels like one character too many. The relationship between Dawai/Hathaway carried a lot of potential, as former roommates whose lives went on completely different trajectories—why do these two men care so much about each other? That feels more compelling than the Lien/Hathaway relationship. Dawai’s death as the center of tragedy (and Mann films pretty much always have a tragedy) makes the ending feel closer to The Last of the Mohicans than something like Heat or Miami Vice.
Viola Davis has popped up in a lot of my recent viewing, and it’s interesting to see her in these supporting roles before she became a headlining star. So much do-not-fuck-with-me energy.