Review: HAYWIRE

Welcome to January, folks – the month when studios tend to dump their dogs into the theatres. If you are not looking to play catch up on the pre-Christmas derby of Oscar hopefuls working their way to a wider release or partaking of the blockbusters deemed too ‘holiday’ for the summer season, you may be on the prowl for one of those buried gems of quality nestled amongst the Hollywood trash heap. Steven Soderbergh makes a solid case for the no-nonsense action thriller, and a bid for a few of your shekels, with Haywire. The film does nothing particularly novel. Another expendable super-spy chase slash revenge picture of which there were at least three of last year – Colombiana, Hanna and Ghost Protocol – and features neither an extravagance for expensive set-pieces nor the over-inflated high stakes. But what then separates this from last year, or a multitude of straight-to-video Jason Statham vehicles is this classic Roger Ebert bon mot, “It’s not what you do but how you do it,” which certainly applies here; even something that feels like this particular filmmaker could do in his sleep has such a precise polish and rhythm that not a second of this film feels superfluous. There are enough little touches and intangables to forgive Haywire for having nothing whatsoever to say other than Soderbergh knows his craft. The film is a walkthrough of all the things that director favours and have been showcased in his prolific c.v. The film knows to be lean and mean and is completely unpretentious about its execution.

The plot is simple enough, simple enough to let the IMDb single sentence synopsis speak for itself: “A black ops super soldier seeks payback after she is betrayed and set up during a mission.” Like a Jason Bourne film, sans the amnesia conceit, the action hops all over the world. Barcelona and Dublin get handsome on-location showcasing, but also upstate New York. Like everything in the film, the location shooting is a marvel of crisp necessity wrapped into the momentum of the storytelling. Given the prolific directors penchant for loading his mainstream films to the gills with name actors – from the Danny Ocean films to last years Contagion – and his experimental side of hiring ‘real people’ to play themselves – from Bubble to The Girlfriend Experience – he really blurs the line between the usual ‘one for them, one for me’ dynamic. Haywire is outfitted to the nines with interesting actors doing what they do, effortlessly. Antonio Banderas as a slick and sexy handler operating out of Barcelona. Check. Ewan MacGregor hiding a nervous anxiety behind a high wattage smile? Check. Michael Douglas with greased back hair? Check. All this supporting male acting energy is in service of a star making performance from Mixed Martial Arts star Gina Carano. If the studio is still looking for a Wonder Woman, Soderbergh seems to have made a pretty solid 90 minute pitch to Warners. She has a hotel-room redecorating sex-fight with Michael Fassbender’s Dublin Mi:6 operative that is the violent doppelgänger of Jennifer Lopez’s tryst with George Clooney (subtle editing bravura to match) in Out of Sight, and a trusting intimacy with her Tom Clancy-esque dad (a wonderful, if underused, Bill Paxton) that echoes the Lopez – Dennis Farina relationship in the same film. Talk about beauty, brains and brawn, Mal has all three; even more importantly for cinema, Carano’s got charisma. I mean Zoe-Bell-in-Deathproof charisma. Like Bell, Carano’s background as a fighter, and show-woman on American Gladiators, allows for nearly all the fight sequences to be done in long-take medium shot. It is a breath of fresh air compared to the shakey-cam and slice-and-dice editing all too familiar to consumers of recent Hollywood action fare.

The collection of performances and an out-of-order narrative structure add a facet of finesse to the film, but compared to the of the previous Lem Dobbs / Soderbergh collaboration, The Limey, a bonafide masterpiece, this one is entertainment only. Those who are attentive to the wonderful commentary between screenwriter and director on the DVD would detect a passive aggressive friction between Dobbs and Soderbergh during production of The Limey and perhaps a peaceful coming back to the table for round two prevented Haywire from doing a bit more stylistic risk taking. Maybe we are all just getting older, and a certain comfort zone beckons. I am by no means asking for either of these men to retire from what they do. This action film could teach a lot of other filmmakers who play in the genre how to do this sorts of thing with class and grace and a counter argument to Vin Diesel films: Fold the macho testosterone in on itself in favour of a believable competence and efficiency and let the actors do some actual acting between all the punching and running. Aw hell, Channing-fucking-Tatum is convincing in a Josh Hartnett-with-a-thicker-neck sort of way, Soderbergh should be cut some slack just for that. Haywire is proof that January is not the dumping grounds it once was.

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Gomez
Guest

Since it seems Soderberg is having fun and doing what ever project he wants too now. I wouldn’t mind seeing him do a strait up horror film before he retires. Contagion had a tiny hint of it but, I think it would be interesting to see his take.

Jericho Slim
Guest

The thing I like about Gina Carano is that she looks like she can kick some ass. She has weight – not her performance, but her body. You can see how muscular her legs are through her jeans.

When she is walking with Fassbender, her shoulders are just as broad as his. Her shoulders are accentuated by her dress; not just the fact that they are left bare, but the horizontal, sequined stripes at the top. Soderbergh makes sure that every piece of clothing she wears demonstrates her physical menace.

I find it refreshing, and more believable than Angelina Jolie and Saoirse Ronan.

Jericho Slim
Guest

Oh, and did anyone else get a strong north by northwest vibe from bill paxton’s house? I was waiting for Jimmy Stewart to show up.

Rick Vance
Guest

That movie was electric and yeah Gina Carano is gonna be around for a bit she can kick someones ass and actually feels like a person too.

Soderbergh just threw down the gauntlet for the action for the rest of the year, which I am kinda annoyed that I will be comparing stuff back to this movie but at the same time it is fantastic that a movie like this can come out in January.

“Shit” love it so much.

Kurt
Guest

This sounds like the same idea when Matty Price was complaining that Midnight in Paris’ debunking the perceived worth of nostalgia lessened, for him, the emotional impact of The Muppets.

But still, we should be happy that there are directors that are raising the bar with a different tool than simply ‘volume’ or ‘mayhem’.

Kudos.

Rick Vance
Guest

Also I need that soundtrack BAD, it was so perfect.

Bob Turnbull
Admin

Damn straight – that soundtrack was not only perfect for those long wordless action scenes, but it was pretty awesome all on its own.

Some of the plot points didn’t quite work for me and Carano’s acting was a bit distracting (she’s not terrible, but I noticed her trying to act), but overall I agree with Kurt’s assessment. I like what you said about “believable competence and efficiency” – I sure as hell believed that Carano could chase down that guy, outsmart the police and beat the crap out of everyone.

Jonathan Hardesty
Guest

I never found myself quite as distracted by her acting as you did, Bob, but I would agree there were some plot things that didn’t quite work. Or rather, they weren’t as apparent as they could have been. Definitely agree on Carano’s believability, though!

Jandy Hardesty
Admin

Yeah, there was only once or twice where I noticed her acting – most of the time I thought she was more than decent. Certainly better than I expected from a non-actor. I’d definitely go see her in other stuff in the future.

Jonathan Hardesty
Guest

That soundtrack is still playing in my head, and probably will for awhile. That and the Contagion soundtrack.

Jandy Hardesty
Admin

I like this level of competent, well-made, non-showy thrillers. They’re not trying to change the world, but to me, THIS is what popcorn entertainment should be like. Also, these are what fight scenes should look like. I know everything is choreographed and stuff, but damn if those hits didn’t look like they freaking HURT. No cutaways, no fancy editing, just WHAM. And no spoilers (not that it would matter for this, really), but I loved the ending. Just cut to black. No need for more.

Andrew James
Admin

Late to the party here but this movie rocks the house. The action version of The Girlfriend Experience really. I can see why some might feel mislead, but I loved what I got rather than what I was expecting. My favorite scenes are surprisingly all actionless (except Fassbender submitting, then getting drop-kicked through a glass door – that was bad ass filmmaking!).

Reminds me a little of the hate last year for one of the best films of the year; “The American.” Also some Melville.

Re Carano: Bob said it exactly: “she’s not terrible, but I noticed her trying to act” – personally I found this to be part of the charm of the film – and more believable in a weird way.

More to say on the Cinecast recording Thursday night.

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