Haywire – Review


Fights, lies, and gauze and tape

Roger Ebert once remarked, “No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough.” However, in the case of Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, you could make the argument that had the film’s slim 90-minute duration (which includes the end credits) had been fifteen minutes longer, it would have been a lesser work.

Now this is the same director who four years ago delivered a two-part film on Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara that ran an elongated 269 minutes total. So to see him make a spy thriller/action film that comes in well under the two-hour mark and without the requisite explosions associated with the genre is a near miracle. The director, who rejuvenated independent film in the late 1980s with Sex, Lies and Videotape, has been able to play the studio system game by helming works that appeal to the mainstream (see Ocean’s Eleven) while also maintaining his artistic freedom with offbeat works that only play to small crowds (see Bubble).

While his latest is a mainstream effort, Soderbergh’s visual eye is not restrained. Haywire is really an art film in disguise; action junkies who love seeing a strong woman kick ass in combat garb or a cocktail dress will probably dismiss the visible and aural cues.

Having worked with such Oscar winners as George Clooney, Julia Roberts, and Michael Douglas, Soderbergh could have easily gone with a name and a face to play heroine Mallory Kane. Instead, he went with an unconventional choice. Watching a Mixed Martial Arts event he noticed Gina Carano and thought she would be great for the part. Fighting in a caged octagon is one thing but playing a character in a movie is a new arena entirely. A visual stunner, in the event her lines didn’t deliver like her kicks, Carano has been surrounded by a well-rounded list of notable actors – including Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas and the flavor of the moment, Michael Fassbender.

It goes without saying that Carano has great charisma for her role, albeit her acting is far from spectacular. In fact, her voice in the film isn’t even hers. In a little bit of trickery she’s been Milli Vanilled. Soderbergh’s rationale is that he wanted people to believe that Gina and her character were “two completely different entities.” And instead of a vocal coach her voice was replaced in post-production. Reading such a revelation is likely to distract conscious moviewatchers whereas the mass populace will take everything at face value. Though her voice may have been altered, there’s no denying Carano’s beguiling presence. Dripping sex in a bruising frame, she is able to be physical when the scene calls for it as well as be portrayed as eye candy.

Haywire, like last year’s Drive, strips the plot down to its basic parts leaving a lean action flick. Only instead of Carano wearing a scorpion jacket or trying to hypnotize McGregor and others as she stares right through them, she hits hard and moves lithely through the scene. Her Mallory Kane character is part of a team of covert operatives that handles sticky jobs so that government agents can maintain a reasonable amount of plausible deniability. When she is betrayed by her superiors and is close to being terminally liquidated, Mallory raises Cain and goes looking for revenge. After a successful mission in Barcelona, her boss, Kenneth (Ewan Mcgregor), sends her to Dublin. It is there she teams with fellow contractor Paul (Michael Fassbender) to do a simple job that should take no longer than 48 hours. However, the mission was a ploy to tie up some loose ends. But Mallory won’t go down without a fight. Or two. Or three.

Told mostly through flashbacks the viewing audience is dependent upon Mallory’s narration and recollections about her time in Barcelona and Dublin to fuel her vengeance. As such, we are afforded such a short run time. But leave it to Steven Soderbergh to not allow that time to go to waste. Working in both a directing and cinematographer capacity, Soderbergh stages the action scenes with a strong sense of coherence. The shaky cam technique that has been a staple of the Jason Bourne franchise – specifically the Paul Greengrass sequels – is sparingly used in favor of wide and medium-range shots. In terms of photography, Soderbergh’s color palate ranges from black & white for one sequence to a variety of desaturated hues in multiple scenes and locations (imagine the look of Traffic but in a spy thriller).

Haywire doesn’t skimp when it comes to brutality, either. Unlike the latest Mission: Impossible where it looked like Tom Cruise’s character died at least three times doing impossible stunts, Mallory has a more grounded approach when it comes to subduing her enemies. And if she happens to take a fist to the face, well, there’s always concealer.

For a director who has given himself a timetable as to when he will take a sabbatical from making films Steven Soderbergh is doing his best to sample other genres that have escaped his filmmaking ways until now. Haywire is full of energy and has a visual flair that is lacking in most action flicks nowadays. Gina Carano’s charisma gives her an authenticity that Kate Beckinsale, Mila Jovovich and other starlet action heroines can never achieve. Hopefully audiences will agree, because I’d love a series of Mallory Kane movies helmed by different directors a la Cruise’s Mission: Impossible franchise.

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Notable Cast: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton, Antonio Banderas
Writer(s): Lem Dobbs

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