Haywire

Certificate: 15
Running time: 93 mins
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas
Genre: Action, Thriller
Country: USA, Ireland

When black-ops specialist Mallory Kane is double-crossed while on assignment she takes the only course of action left available to her.  As she fights to clear her name Mallory soon discovers the road ahead is a lot more dark and bloody than she could have ever imagined.

In much the same vein as The Girlfriend Experience (in which Soderbergh cast pornstar Sasha Grey in the lead role), the American auteur has turned to a leading lady that best fits the narrative he’s attempting to craft.  On this occasion MMA superstar Gina Carano steps in front of the camera to give SS’s fight a level of authenticity that’s rarely seen in the action realm.  As a director, he is certainly one of the more interesting and brave that’s come out of the contemporary Hollywood model.  The casting of Carano allows for Soderbergh to forgo the, traditionally required, heavy-edit in fight sequences as director scrambles together a Frankenstein’s monster of “best takes” in order to make their star look good.  With Gina wielding them dukes he’s able to relax behind the lens and allow the wonderfully constructed choreography to brush across the camera like the beautifully violent piece of art it is.  Several of the set pieces are breathtaking and credit where it is due to Michael Fassbender and Channing Tatum in their efforts to keep up with Carano as both their physical displays on screen made it for an interesting contest.

Visually the film is striking.  You would expect nothing less from Steven Soderbergh, and like most of his other genre pieces Haywire seems to channel an era of cinema much in the way Ocean’s Eleven channelled sixties American, and Ocean’s Twelve –seventies European.  In Haywire, the influence of European Exploitation cinema is more than slightly apparent.  The colour palette and set up of many of his shots, especially those which have Kane running from some unknown enemy through the streets of Dublin, are incredibly reminiscent of Il cinico, l’infame, il violento and all those great Italian movies starring the ever-excellent John Saxon.  It’s a remarkable feat for a film that is so geographically expansive to feel so claustrophobic at times.  David Holmes’ score adds the punctuation to Soderbergh’s overall feel.  Regardless of how self-involved, arrogant or downright rude he might be in person Holmes knows how to put together a film score, and alongside Steven Soderbergh has done some of his finest work (see Out of Sight and The Girlfriend Experience for further proof).  It is Holmes’ auditory signature that gives the film the feel of 42nd Street and firmly fixes what could have been a relatively by-the-book genre flick with an identity that’s as strong and distinctive as any. 

Gina Carano gives a confident, controlled performance for the most part but it’s the moments of expansive dialogue and exposition that lets her down.  She’s not an actress, not yet anyway and there are several moments that highlight this a little more than what you’d like but that is in actually part of the charm of the movie.  Steven Soderbergh is grasping for a different level of authenticity, Carano’s delivery (when it falters which isn’t very often) goes to highlight a charm in the risk taken and actually makes Haywire feel more like the type of movies it visually belongs with.  Aside from these few moments, Carano has a presence on screen that is unlike any woman working in Hollywood at the moment.  She is sexy when she wants to be sexy, deadly when she wants to be deadly and you just know that underneath all that charisma is a wrecking machine.  With the right roles (or more importantly avoiding the wrong roles) Carano could be the first female action star to rise to the heights that saw Stallone and Schwarzenegger shatter the glass ceiling in the eighties.  Tatum, Douglas, Fassbender, McGregor and Banderas all turn in assured performances.  Having turned out in force for SS (who at this point had announced his forthcoming retirement) they not only lend their sufficient talents to the screen, their bodies to Carano’s fight school, and their charisma to help fill out a somewhat light screenplay from Lem Dobbs. 

It would be easy to batter Dobbs for a series of underdeveloped characters that have stumbled their way in front of the runaway train that is Mallory Kane but from experience we know that not all thin narratives are his fault.  The DVD commentary for The Limey (another Soderbergh/Dobbs offering) showcased some twenty minutes of Lem bemoaning the loss of some sixty minutes worth of narrative to Soderbergh’s final vision.  The director’s answer was a simple one, cinema is a visual medium and you need only what you need to tell the story.  When The Limey wrapped up at 89 minutes it was evident to all who still harboured any doubts that Soderbergh is the quintessential visual director and as such Dobbs’ script can’t really be criticized beyond its adherence to genre expectations.

Haywire has some truly astonishing moments.  Carano v Tatum in the snow-clad roadside cafĂ©, Carano v Fassbender in the hotel, Carano v the Garda across the rooftops of Dublin, and Carano v just about everyone in the final third; yet for all of its excellent set pieces the film comes up as less than the sum of its parts.  In a lot of ways it’s reminiscent of another Steven Soderbergh film The Good German which tells such a cinematically and historically rich visual story that it almost forgets to tell a narrative one.



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