Director Steven Soderbergh is here to deliver his take on the Jason Bourne-style, double-cross actioner genre with Haywire, a film with an intriguing “whodunnit” plot and a bend toward a more realistic presentation of filmed fight scenes, which works far more than it fails. Loaded with a strong supporting cast, Soderbergh has turned to MMA fighter Gina Carano as his lead actress, playing Mallory, a black ops agent betrayed by someone higher up on the food chain and as she evades the authorities she’s also attempting to find out who’s responsible.
Haywire has a bounce and a pulse thanks to an intriguing plot from screenwriter Lem Dobbs (The Limey) and a score from David Holmes that plays a bit more upbeat than his scores for Soderbergh’s Ocean’s trilogy, but definitely has a similar vibe. The story also attempts to rely as little as possible on the inclusion of technology, which has become a placeholder for skill in action films where the protagonist must do whatever they can to even the odds. This is a lowdown and dirty grind and it works for the most part, some scenes bumping up against excellent while there were a few that still need a jolt of energy.
To be specific, and yet skirt the details so as not to spoil the film, at the outset we get an immediate feel for the action as Mallory is confronted by a fellow agent, tasked with bringing her in after a job we can only assume didn’t go as planned. She wasn’t interested in going anywhere and in the middle of a roadside coffee shop a fight breaks out, close proximity shots are fired and Mallory makes her getaway and much of the back-story is filled in from that point as she relays the story of how she ended up where she was to the young man (Michael Angarano) whose car she just confiscated.
Why would she tell a stranger her story? Well, it makes more sense inside the plot of the film than it does on paper, but trust me, as far as movies relying on flashbacks go, this one works.
The approach to the fighting in this opening scene is mimicked at least three more times, it could be more, I can’t really remember, but in most cases, once the fists begin to fly the music stops and the action is all we have to count on. It was a refreshing change from the “thwack” and “pow” brute force style of fighting we’re used to seeing, but as the film’s pulse increases the action stumbles on occasion and has more of the appearance of a clumsy wrestling match than it does a fight. I know, in real lige fights don’t play out in the beautifully choreographed nature they do in the majority of films, but it would have been nice to just once not have to endure the thuds of a lengthy grappling sequence and just have Mallory do a little more ass kicking.
My biggest beef comes during a beach side kerfuffle in which Soderbergh does his best to play with the surf and setting sun as an accompanying aesthetic to a tumble in the sand. The scene ends up lacking any kind of real energy and instead had me looking off in the distance for Daniel-son and Mr. Miyagi practicing crane kicks.
However, that kind of disappointment was few and far between in Haywire. One moment I simply have to call out as something that really captured my attention despite how simple it seems. Shot at a wide angle, this scene features two characters having a conversation while standing about ten feet apart in a plane hanger. Both are captured almost entirely in silhouette, with a lone jet and the desert serving as the background, when all of a sudden I noticed movement off the left side of the screen. It disappeared only to resurface briefly before again disappearing. What was it? Was it some sort of desert animal that by chance wandered into the shot? No, it was a tumbleweed that soon began rolling across the tarmac and off the right side of the screen.
Whether it was planned or a happy accident, that tumbleweed supplied a moment that ensured a certain level of sheer authenticity that Soderbergh manages to capture better than most directors out there. It was small, subtle and most people may not even notice it, but I can almost assure you the scene wouldn’t be the same without it, whether you notice it or not.
Of course, when you’re this attentive to details you open yourself up to scrutiny, such as when the solution to a massive foot chase simply ends with the person being chased evading capture by slipping into a green hoody and walking with their head down. Seriously? Come on. I don’t want to go into further details so as not to spoil this portion of the film, but it’s infuriating to see so much work go into the nuts and bolts of a feature to see such a lazy resolution to a sticky situation.
As the film’s lead, Carano serves her character well just as pornstar Sasha Grey did in Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience, but doesn’t blow the doors off to any great extent. It doesn’t hurt that she’s accompanied by a supporting cast that includes Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton in a role that suits his particular style of acting and even Channing Tatum turns in a solid performance.
Haywire, however, is likely to play like Drive did to the Fast and the Furious portion of the audience. I watched the trailer only after watching the film and was disappointed to see so much of the story given away leaving only the “Why?” to be answered for those that have seen it more than once. The film also doesn’t play quite as upbeat as the trailer, which may cause some to be bored with the action on screen.
While I compared it to the Bourne franchise of films, Haywire is Soderbergh’s interpretation of those kinds of movies. This is his dialed-back and authentic answer to the frenetic pacing and shot choices of those films. He allows the camera to stand back and bear witness as opposed to getting in the middle of things while other times throwing you in the driver’s seat in a film that’s rare nowadays, but one I bet many of you will enjoy.