A film review by Craig J. Koban January 24, 2012
2012, R, 92 mins.
2012, R, 92 mins.
Mallory: Gina Carano / Paul: Michael Fassbender / Kenneth: Ewan
McGregor / John Kane: Bill Paxton / Aaron: Channing Tatum / Rodrigo:
Antonio Banderas / Coblenz: Michael Douglas
has been said that Steven Soderbergh wishes to take a long sabbatical from
film directing, largely because he has become disinterested and uninspired
by the profession. His most recent film, the
pandemic thriller CONTAGION, revealed that
he still had much to offer when it comes to subverting genre expectations
with his avant garde flourishes, but now comes HAYWIRE, a globe-trotting,
revenge-fuelled spy espionage thriller where the acclaimed director takes
another rebellious stab at genre conventions and once again subverts them
in ways that only he can muster.
is, of course, an action film that stars Gina Carano, a disarmingly
beautiful, but undeniably imposing 29-year-old that was once a Mixed
Martial Arts champion (she has been referred to as the “Face of Women’s MMA”) that packs an unbelievable aura of lethal physicality
despite her average five-foot-eight frame.
This is not the first time that Soderbergh has flirted with using
unproven, amateur performers in his films (see Sasha Grey in THE
GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE), and Carano is most certainly not an actress of
range or far-reaching credibility (her voice has been digitally tweaked in
the film to
give her enunciations a lower murmur of intimidating menace), but HAYWIRE
is not primarily concerned with showcasing her as a breakout film
thespian; the film is ostensibly calibrated around her specific and proven
abilities at… hurting people. On those primal levels, the film is a thoroughly entertaining
script – attributed to Lem Dobbs, who previously penned Soderbergh's
KAFKA and THE LIMEY – cavorts around the world from Barcelona, Dublin, New York, and New Mexico and traverseS
through multiple vignettes and timelines to keep the proceedings as
briskly paced as possible. The
underlining story of a spy gone rogue because her employers have betrayed
her is hardly anything novel, but it’s adequately rendered here in
service of Soderbergh’s technique.
Mallory Kane (Carano) was part of a secret covert governmental team
that is contracted out for jobs when normal clandestine channels won’t
work. Her main boss, Agent
Coblenz (Michael Douglas) likes using field agents like Mallory because of
her abilities to get missions done quickly and
finishing an important mission in Barcelona, Mallory meets up with her
boss, Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) where he gives her a new assignment in
Dublin. She is to team up with a Brit named Paul (Michael Fassbender),
but the mission is not entirely as advertised and Mallory
discovers to her chagrin that it's essentially a frame-up concocted by her handlers
to get rid of her. This subsequently leads to her desperately trying to
evade an entire Swat team of Dublin’s finest and make it back stateside
so that she can reunite with her father (Bill Paxton), who is the only
person that she trusts with her life to provide a safe haven for her.
She does manage to get to a small diner in upstate New York where she has a
chance meeting with one of her former colleagues (Channing Tatum) and
their cordial exchange soon becomes a lethally hostile battle of
lightning fast kicks
and punches. This moment is
the chronological beginning of the film and the rest of the narrative
segues between the present and past to provide a meaningful
opening bone-crunching and blood-spewing fight scene in the diner needs to
be commented on, especially for the manner Soderbergh infuses his own
sensibilities into what could have been another routine action sequence.
The scene begins quietly and unassumingly, with tight close-ups and
not much in the way of dialogue. Glances
are shared, foreboding exchanges about employers and the semi-botched
Barcelona mission occurs, and then the scene explodes into savage
aggression between the pair. Most token action-film directors would shoot scenes of mayhem
like this with a multitude of epileptic-seizure inducing edits and dizzying
camera work to the point where visual cohesion is all but nullified.
Soderbergh does the exact opposite (he serves as his own
cinematographer under the pseudonym Peter Andrews): he films the scene
with a crisp
bluntness and economy, employing minimal cuts and largely static compositions.
So many modern fight scenes are wall-to-wall with eye-straining
CGI, incoherent staging, headache-inducing editorial overkill, and
throbbing musical cues, but Soderbergh’s lean, clean, restrained, and
coldly precise style makes the action seem more palpably brutal and
realistic. It’s also great
that he allows the camera to simply linger on the combatants to allow us
to make sense of it all.
are other instances where Soderbergh’s nonconforming method stands out,
like a superlatively handled donnybrook between Fassbenger and Carano in
a Dublin hotel room, which gets routinely thrashed as the adversaries
plough through one another. Another
effectively staged sequence involves Mallory attempting to elude Dublin's police
and Swat team through a series of buildings by scaling and leaping from
window-to-window and rooftop-to-rooftop. Soderbergh’s 4K Red One camera shots give
moments like this a stark smoothness and controlled elegance while
capturing the coldly detached exteriors and interiors of the film’s
European locales. Other
scenes that are juxtaposed between the past and present are color tinted
to delineate them with minimal fuss and are accompanied by the discretely
jazzy musical chords of David Holmes. HAYWIRE
feels completely removed from any standard Hollywood artifice and is far
better because of it.
Then there is Carano herself, who, to be fair, may not be a convincing dramatic actress (funny, but neither was Schwarzenegger in his early action films), but HAYWIRE is not about exposing her subtle nuances as a performer. She is an undeniable brute force in the film that matches her girl-next-door beauty with a steely-eyed intensity and killer martial arts repertoire (she’s endlessly more believable as an action hero than, say, Kate Beckinsale in the UNDERWORLD films). Part of the perverse pleasure of the film is to see her mop the floor with the likes of all of her male co-stars – all whom revel in slimeball villainy in one form or another - in the most gravity-defying, limb-popping, face-smashing, and harshly fatal manner possible. Having great and gifted actors like McGregor, Douglas, Paxton and Fassbender play opposite of Carano helps relieve the burdensome weight of her lack of acting chops. Fassbender in particular has a reptilian and chilling charm as a double-crossing agent and how refreshing is it to see McGregor play a total backstabbing and two-faced baddie for a change?
Not all of HAYWIRE works: The plot itself is convoluted at times to the point where I had no idea how the agent characters played by Douglas and Antonio Banderas relate to one another and, in turn, to McGregor and Carano. Yet, the screenplay is spryly assured in keeping viewers off-balance and guessing and Soderbergh’s unconventional handling of dime-a-dozen spy material, to his esteemed credit, makes the $25 million budgeted HAYWIRE a seditious delight that brazenly taunts at action movie formulas and clichés. And a little bit of Gina Carano - methodically pummeling men into bloodied and bashed submission - goes an awfully long way and is the film’s real gleeful calling card. HAYWIRE concludes on just the right one-word vulgarity as one villain realizes that Mallory Kane has located him in hiding. If I saw Carano coming after me with the same determined eye for vengeance…uh...I’d feebly utter the same word as well.