A film review by Craig J. Koban January 24, 2012


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

Directed by Steven Soderbergh / Written by Lem Dobbs.

It 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.  

HAYWIRE 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 success.  

The 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 effectively.    

After 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 essentially segues between the present and past to provide a meaningful whole. 



The 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. 

There 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.  

Trust me.  

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