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Michael Mann’s Cyber / Black Hat

Holt McCallany, Cyber / Black Hat

Holt McCallany

Cyber is the tentative title for Michael Mann’s next directorial outing due for release on January 16, 2015 in the USA and February 20, 2015 in the UK, with other possible alternative titles such as Black Hat being bantered about (Black Hat was tweeted by Holt McCannally). It is being produced by Legendary Pictures. Legendary has a reputation for high quality blockbuster cinema, working closely with Mann’s peer Christopher Nolan, a brilliant director that has a similar approach to Mann in his filmmaking. Legendary has produced superb releases such as the Dark Knight Trilogy and Man of Steel. “Cyber” isn’t the first time Mann has had difficulty deciding a title prior to production. Collateral was pained over as a film title and Mann confesses he doesn’t quite know what it means in relation to the film. Granted, it’s unique. It’s what makes Michael Mann, Michael Mann… he goes into painstaking detail over every aspect of the film, including the title – Miami Vice not included!

Cyber, as we will call it for now (it’s catchier than Black Hat), is a return to the big screen for Mann following his 1930’s period piece, Public Enemies. Undecided with his next movie commission, Mann ventured into TV, where high budget visual storytelling was at last being embraced over 10 hours, and not just 90 minutes. HBO’s contribution to that process has been spectacular. Michael Mann’s TV foray was heartbreakingly cut short when HBO cancelled “Luck”, a highly anticipated collaboration between Michael Mann and David Milch, two towering talents. They gambled on working with animals. Alas, it seems working with a crocodile on Miami Vice was safer. The show was cancelled after its first season when over a period of filming several horses tragically died on set. It seemed ironic, with a scene of a horse being put down on the racetrack being an emotional pivot point in the opening pilot that was directed by Mann himself. The premature cancelling of the show was a devastating blow for everyone involved.

A number of films were on Michael Mann’s horizon as possibilities for putting into production: The Big Stone Grid, Big Tuna, Robert Capa, Go Like Hell and even an epic medieval tale, Agincourt were all on his radar. The announcement of Cyber was a jump out of the dark. Cyber will be directed by Mann, and he also collaborates on the screenplay with Morgan Davis Foehl. Whilst the details of the story are largely unknown, we do have some clues from an “alleged” early interview with Chris Hemsworth who is currently filming as lead actor for Cyber. Whilst answering questions about his film Rush, he describes “Cyber”:

Warning: Contains mild spoilers.

“I just finished it. It’s based in the world of cyber-terrorism. Basically, something similar to the Chicago Board of Trade is hacked into and it sets off a chain of events around the world, affecting the stock market. The code that was used to hack into it, my character had written it years before and he happens to be in prison for cyber crime. He is pulled out and offered a deal if he works with a joint task force of the FBI and the Chinese government in trying to track this guy down. It starts off in Chicago and ends up in Kuala Lumpur, in Hong Kong and in Jakarta. It’s this sort of cat-and-mouse international heist-thriller. ”

“It was was fascinating. I knew nothing about that world. It’s very prominent now as we see what hacking and cyber terrorism make possible, like shutting down power grids in other countries. In our film he shuts down the water pumps to overheat the cooling system in a nuclear power plant and causes a whole lot of chaos. When you do that research you realize, how vulnerable you are.”

Chris Hemsworthy proved his acting subtleties in Rush. It’s an important aspect to Mann, to have an actor that conveys contemporary cool, but is capable of emotive intelligence, to capture those close ups of a man experiencing mixed emotions in a mixed up world, where a spirit level never finds a flat horizontal. Forgive me if that is a mixed metaphor, but it’s the world we live in. Hemsworth became available for the role when his star role on Spielberg’s “Robocopalypse” was cancelled due to script problems.

Cyber-Viola DavisOther talent in the film includes Oscar nominee Viola Davis, Archie Kao, Holt McCannally and William Mapother – edgy actors that will bring gravitas to Mann’s thriller.

Michael Mann surprises with his choice of DP, working with Stuart Dryburgh who shot the “Luck” Pilot. It’s a departure from Mann’s other established DPs, Dante Spinotti and Dion Beebe. Luck was beautifully shot and I can see why Mann has every confidence in him. It will surely be partly reward following the cancellation of the show. There is a reasonable number of location images online that help give an impression of what the pallet of this movie will look like. There seems to be a great many night scenes, with neon lights and cohesive abstract patterns, with an aesthetic that reminds me of Miami Vice. The locations look superb. Whilst Jakarta, Indonesia wasn’t in the original script, Mann brought it in because of the location. He directed 1500 extras to create a colourful Balinese New Year celebration as the background to the drama. In an interview with Michael Mann (following a showing at the Aero Theatre of “Thief” to celebrate the re-digitalised version for BluRay available as part of the Critereon Collection), he says:

Michael Mann Filming Cyber“We had some very big scenes in Jakarta, it was 4500 extras four nights in a row,” said Mann of “Cyber.” “Myself and one of the editors were talking about this today – you really sense there’s a difference. There’s so much magic you can do with digital and there’s so much good work that’s been done, but it’s become so ubiquitous that it’s been taken for granted in fantasy films and sequels, so there is a special quality when your brain processes what you’re seeing and you just know that these are not digital replicants. These are real people out there.”

It’s this level of production management that makes me think of The Last of the Mohicans and Ali. Mann is an understated master of managing these large stages, despite his seeming preference for close proximity scenes. Production designer will be Oscar nominee Guy Hendrix Dyas (“Inception”); costume design will be by Colleen Atwood (“Chicago”) with editing by Joe Walker (“Shame”).

As the film’s production draws to completion in the editing suite, one hopes that outside political events don’t compromise it. Already there have been controversial verbal accusations between the US and China on high level hacking of not just governmental state secrets but large-scale industrial and corporate espionage and data raiding, which is what “Cyber” is based on. “Cyber” is rumoured to be a story based on a U.S.-China task force pursuing a hacker originating from the Balkans. I guess this could limit controversy with China, but it does make one wonder what kind of controversy this film might cause.

Looking at the story line, my hope for this movie is a mixture of The Insider and Heat. A detailed, multi-layered script with character driven stories, moving through abstract patterns of landscape with stunning cinematography and emotional high points achieved through a great score and Mann’s refined directing of his talent. But with behind the scenes location images showing a variety of night scenes, we may be looking at a Collateral style cat and mouse film. Mann will be under pressure to create a commercial success, and Collateral was a hit. This film journeys through LA, Jakarta, Hong Kong and Malaysia – In Malaysia alone, locations are recorded as Manjung, Pulau Pangkor, Lumut, Marina Island, Port Klang, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya. Hotels were booked to accommodate 200 people, which gives an idea as to the logistical complexity of this production. I am confident we will get an amazing trip out of this fim. What’s more, the UK release is on my birthday. What a gift!

The following are some links hoovered from across the web that provide a number of behind the scenes glimpses of Cyber in the making. It gives a great impression of how the film will look. The question for Mann fans will be, is the script good?



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