Haywire (2010) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence and language
Running time: 93 min.
Cast: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Angarano, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, Bill Paxton, Antonio Banderas, Matthieu Kassovitz
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay: Lem Dobbs
Review published January 29, 2012
Steven Soderbergh (Ocean's Thirteen, Ocean's Twelve) directs, giving a starring role to MMA fighter and former participant on "American Gladiator" Gina Carano, a novice actress with an intense physical presence and prowess, this retro-vibed thriller about an independent security contractor bodyguard/assassin named Mallory Kane, whose rescue assignment in Barcelona goes awry when it turns out she is the intended casualty in a double cross. Signs point to her direct contact working in her former employ of the U.S. government (McGregor, The Men Who Stare at Goats), which leaves her stranded without knowing just whom she can trust other than her famed author father (Paxton, Thunderbirds). With the government forces out to trap her in Barcelona, Dublin, New Mexico, and upstate New York, it's up to Mallory to snuff out the agents out to see her demise, kill or be killed, and a little bit of revenge as well.
Although the stoic nature of her character effectively mutes any need for ostentatious displays of emotions, Carano's imposing physical build, looks, and dynamic fighting style does make up for the lack of nuance in her character, such that it creates that certain mystique that many quiet-but-deadly action stars like Clint Eastwood benefit from. If there is a softness to her, she doesn't let it show, and her ability to dish out lethal force to those driven by money to make the lives of others dispensable makes her battle heroic, and often exhilarating when she emerges triumphant.
Soderbergh inverts the typical action movie genre score by ratcheting up the score during the non-fight sequences, applying that retro-1970s jazzy horn and percussion score by David Holmes (Code 46, Analyze That) during the dialogue and chases, while turning the music completely off when the film gets explosive for the highly brutal moments of close-quarter, melee combat. These scenes don't need extra punch (so to speak) because they are well choreographed and quite exciting in their execution. If there is any effects enhancement to them, it is scarcely noticeable. Carano ultimately emerges, despite the excellent cast of famous actors around her, as the one worth watching.
If there is a weakness to the film, it's the routine nature of the script by Lem Dobbs (The Score, The Hard Way), who worked with Soderbergh on the similarly themed, The Limey, which seems convoluted (flashbacks come often, though one doesn't always know when the scene is set until a good part into the scene) and oddly generic given the quality of the cast and crew in front of and behind the camera. At 93 minutes, the story doesn't stay longer than warranted, but still, the rest of the film clicks well enough that a bit more fleshing out would have turned a good action flick into a must-see for genre fans and even some non-fans alike. The film is also a bit murky from a visual standpoint, perhaps due to the digital camera work in lighting that intentionally uses the actual lighting of the room rather than staged, and the colors and textures are especially muted during scenes filmed indoors.
But, so long as you can follow the story well enough, and don't mind the rather lengthy takes that Soderbergh enjoys during scenes of running or driving, Haywire is worth seeking out for a smart, stylish, and off-speed action film that blends traditional thrills with Soderbergh's independent experimentation with the process of genre filmmaking. Like its MMA-tinged fight style, it's a taut and lean delivery that packs a powerful punch when the time is right.
©2012 Vince Leo