Review: Haywire

Andy Boxall takes a look at Steven Soderbergh’s experimental action flick Haywire starring mixed martial arts professional Gina Carano.

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When Steven Soderbergh made The Girlfriend Experience, he gave adult film star Sasha Grey the starring role as a high-class call girl, one which she could bring a certain degree of realism too, as well as giving Soderbergh the chance to easily mould her into the character he envisioned.

Haywire, despite occupying a different genre, is similar to The Girlfriend Experience, as Soderbergh has taken real-life female cage fighter Gina Carano and given her the role of a no-nonsense, arse-kicking spy. It has a similarly brief runtime, coming in at under 90 minutes, and the plot is equally sparse too. It’s a decision that also recalls Tarantino’s casting of Zoe Bell in Death Proof, where the goal was filming the best, no-compromise stunt shots possible.

In Haywire, Carano plays Mallory Kane, a black ops assassin who discovers a mission in Barcelona wasn’t all that it appeared to be, and that she has now become a target. She must use all her guile and abilities to find out why.

Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas and Michael Douglas are the big name stars who all hold pieces of the puzzle, and each actor gives a low-key, subtle performance; while Channing Tatum and Michael Fassbender are both on hand to provide the charm and act as potential targets for Carano’s whirlwind fists.

Anyone who has seen the trailer for Haywire could be expecting an action-packed, b-movie thrill ride, but Haywire is more spy thriller with an action twist than vice versa. Carano though, has great screen presence, and is convincing as a “lethal weapon.”

Haywire plays as if Soderbergh wanted to make a modern version of Tinker, Tailer, Soldier Spy, but felt the need to put in some action scenes for the Bourne crowd. It’s not a bad thing, but there is a lot more mumbled, intrigue-filled conversation than there is crunching of bones.

When the acton and fight sequences do arrive though, they’re superb, and a world away from those filmed with a shaky camera with which we have become so familiar. Carano’s incredible fighting prowess and obvious athleticism reminded me of why Bruce Lee’s fight scenes were so fantastic to watch.

Like Lee, Carano is a martial artist, and her skill means we see proper, realistic fights. Filmed in long shot and carefully edited, every connecting blow has weight behind it, and each one looks like it genuinely hurt. All are intricately choreographed and Carano’s fluid, dynamic movements add to the realism. While they don’t hold the same kinetic excitement of Casino Royale or the Bourne trilogy, they do make Haywire’s fights seem more grounded, almost clinical in their execution.

This continues in the barebones plot and the often less than emotional characters, and it’s really only McGregor who gets close to acting like a human being. As with other Soderbergh movies, it’s stylishly filmed, with some standout tracking shots used in the Dublin city chase.

Haywire is almost a repeat of The Girlfriend Experience, a stylish indie movie filled with subtle performances and an almost inconsequential plot, that’s made more for Soderbergh than it is for the audience. It’s ultimately a bit soulless, and only Gina Carana’s brilliant skull-cracking fight sequences elevate it above being an average spy movie lacking in plot and thrills.

Review by Andy BoxallSee all reviews

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Lem Dobbs
Starring: Gina Carano, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Fergal O’Halloran
Released: 2011 / Genre: Action / Country: USA / IMDB

Buy on DVD:
Amazon.co.uk: DVD + Blu-ray Double Play

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About the Author
Rather than saying one particular film holds the position of his favourite, Andy has a list of films that “click” with him, including American Graffiti, Videodrome, Grosse Pointe Blank, Ghostbusters, American Psycho and Suspiria.

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  1. sati Reply

    I really enjoyed the movie. Carano was a great choice and really carried the movie well, I also liked the fact that unlike in Contagion the film had a clear protagonist.

  2. Andrew Reply

    Soderbergh seems to be one of the most prominent directors working today who ascribes to Hitchcock’s belief that actors should be treated like cattle, though Soderbergh seems to see them more as lumps of clay than anything else. “Here’s some raw material. Let’s see what I can shape it into.”

    Carano’s no charmer, but she works in the role. I think she adds enough tics to Kane to make the performance something noteworthy, but it’s not sublime craft that we’re seeing here– until she starts throwing punches.

    Interestingly, most old-school action movies tended to throw a non-actor into the mix with a bunch of even worse actors to make the star look better by comparison. Here, Soderbergh takes a non-actor and uses the considerable skill of his supporting cast to keep her aloft. Smart approach, I think.

  3. Thomas Reply

    I share your mixed appreciation. It seems Soderbergh is often driven by one central idea, he sticks to the idea and (I believe intentionally) refuses to spruce the whole thing up for sake of a wider audience appeal. This makes his films … intimate … a bit barren … cold to the touch … hard to describe really, but they all retain this arthouse feeling. I like this, even more I appreciate this, but I cannot make me love it.
    http://thomas4cinema.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/haywire-steven-soderbergh-2011/

  4. Castor Reply

    Terrible plot worthy of a B-movie. Somewhat entertaining but this didn’t really work for me because of the shaky editing and terrible plot.

  5. Raghav Reply

    I loved the movie for tha action first but also the star cast. I think using familier faces amongst a newcomer in the main role plays out real well. I’ve always like Soderberg’s style of filming and his ideas so maybe that’s another reason for me liking the film.

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