There seem to be two different versions of director Steven Soderbergh.
One version is the director of the Ocean’s movies, Out of Sight and Contagion who seems to be able to make standard Hollywood fare better than most other directors. The other is the indie wunderkind who broke onto the scene with Sex, Lies, and Videotape and has continued experimenting with the cinematic form through movies like The Limey, Full Frontal and The Girlfriend Experience.
Surprisingly, Haywire, a female-centric action movie starring mixed-martial arts fighter Gina Carano as a double-crossed black ops freelancer, is a product of the experimental Soderbergh.
Although an action film, Haywire is not going to please the typical action audience whose cinematic diet consists of the kind of mind-numbing, viscerally bombastic films by the Michael Bay generation. At a crisp 93 minutes long, Haywire takes its time and doesn’t jam every scene full of shootouts and foot races, although there are a few of those.
The film revolves around Mallory Kane (Carano), a black ops freelancer with a knack for upsetting the expectations her attractive appearance projects. After a job in Barcelona and a double-cross in Dublin, she finds herself pitted against a series of ex-coworkers and bosses played by a veritable cast of Hollywood A-listers: Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas and Channing Tatum.
Of course, you don’t really need to know or care about any of this plot. Haywire’s plot is perfunctory, merely acting as a foundation upon which Soderbergh can play with genre tropes. The idea for the movie was apparently spawned after Soderbergh caught an MMA fight with Carano on television in a hotel room one night. He was taken with her athleticism and decided to fashion an entire action film around her.
As a result, the action in Haywire is impressive, if unconventional. Soderbergh stages his action scenes from a distance, allowing the camera free movement and an unobstructed view to witness Carano’s bone-crunching fighting skills. He doesn’t manipulate the pacing or the editing to make the fights assault you on a visceral level. He lets the strength of the fight choreography and the unfettered skill of the fighters speak for themselves. The fight between Carano and Fassbender, in particular, impresses. The fight’s brutality set in a ritzy hotel room really hits the audience in the gut. As well, the peculiarity of seeing a beautiful woman beat the snot out of the guy who plays Magneto is more than intriguing.
Part of Haywire’s appeal is that it features a female protagonist who upsets typical action movie expectations. She is definitely no damsel in distress, and her strengths aren’t the typical movie character traits given to underwritten female characters in action movies. Most intriguingly, she physically dominates the men of the film. Thus, the novelty of the whole exercise makes it worth a look.
When Angelina Jolie or Kate Beckinsale throw a punch in Tomb Raider or Underworld, you feel like they’d break a bone from the impact due to their waif-like body-types. With Carano, on the other hand, it takes no imagination to believe the beatings she inflicts on the various men of the film. When she punches and kicks, you know it hurts.
As for her acting ability, Carano is pretty good considering this is her first time taking a stab at the whole profession. She is cool and attractive and holds her own opposite some impressive actors. She is a more than adequate heroine for a film of this sort.
Just like its strengths, most of Haywire’s problems come from its novelty. Soderbergh, being a natural experimenter, plays with pacing and narrative, and the result is occasionally a little tiring. The film bears more than a passing similarity to Soderbergh’s previous film The Limey, also written by Lem Dobbs, which isn’t a plus.
As well, because the plot is so basic and only an excuse for Carano’s fight scenes, the film can seem inconsequential. This gives the film a fun feel, but also makes you ponder the results if Soderbergh had really thrown himself into the whole endeavour.
Haywire is an intriguing, unconventional action film that will likely bore the occasional viewer. It’s the product of a technical genius who uses film as a means of experimentation. Steven Soderbergh is like a brilliant kid playing with Lego. With Haywire he introduces action figures into the mix.