I've written variations of this before but it bears repeating – death at the movies means so little anymore, so often failing to capture the suddenness, the definitiveness and, in turn, the necessary reverence, the literal moment when we merge with the infinite and everything that is, was and might ever be extinguishes. Instead, characters perish off screen, collateral damage in sweeping CGI wars, or single casualties are employed as nothing more than fatal means to advance the plot or stages for a Big Speech that’s actually quite small. Death, real death, is something else entirely, something we both futilely try to wrap our heads around and try not to think about. Its finite nature is so terrifying that we all have ideas, whether culled from religion or somewhere else, about what happens and where we go and who we meet.
And I don’t mean to belittle anyone’s beliefs, because I have my own, because mister, I believe in a promised land, but still, no one is dealing in absolutes when it comes to the soul, which may or may not remain conscious after death, and so with all this thrown into a mixing bowl of emotions, well, it’s no wonder the difficulty of making death’s determinateness ring true is so high. Enter: Michael Mann, the only auteur who would slow down in the midst of a bullet-ridden action sequence that pounds the requisite pulse to momentarily take in something so esoteric.
In “Blackhat” there is a moment when a shoot-out erupts between the people we are rooting for and the people we are rooting against. An FBI agent, Carol Barrett (Viola Davis), and a deputy marshal speed to the scene. They stop their and car and get out, guns drawn. This firefight, we assume, is about to be taken up a notch. After all, Carol Barrett has been an important and gripping character, and as such there is no way she- Boom. She’s plugged by a bullet and gets hurtled backwards, landing harshly on the cement. She lies on the ground, a shot Mann shows from the side. Then, he shows this...
Its profundity stems precisely from just how un-profound Mann makes the moment. Looking up from where she has fallen, this skyscraper glittering faintly in the night is the last thing she sees. Then, she blinks, and she expires. The edifice itself has no bearing on anything; it just happens to be there, and that’s what makes it sting. It’s a moment that makes me think of Frank Grillo’s character meeting his end in “The Grey”, when, wounded, he chooses the where and when, gazing out across a pristine Alaskan lake and toward the mountains, their snow-capped peaks obscured by the mist. It’s breathtaking; it’s what we all want; it’s what Barrett does not get because the moment, as I can only assume it is for most of us, is not of her divination.
She sees a building, and then she draws her last breath.