Friday, August 31, 2012

"Haywire" (2011)

Starring Gina Carano, Ewan MacGregor, and Channing Tatum
Written by Lem Dobbs
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Rated R - Violence, language
Running Time: 93 Minutes

Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is an operative for a private firm of ambiguous origin.  Her boss and former boyfriend Kenneth (Ewan MacGregor) hires her for an assignment in Barcelona.  There, she's tasked with rescuing a dissident Chinese journalist named Jiang, and partnered with a man named Aaron (Channing Tatum).

After she returns, she's sent out quickly on another assignment in Dublin where she must play the "eye candy" with a British Intelligence agent named Paul (Michael Fassbender).  But she discovers that Paul has killed Jiang, and that she is now a target.  Mallory is now on the run, with Kenneth sending his best assassins and local law enforcement after her.

Not knowing why she's being targeted or who she can trust, Mallory reluctantly forms a partnership with a young man she's forced to kidnap (Michael Angarano) and a mysterious government agent named Coblenz (Michael Douglas) in order to find the truth.

"Haywire" is a fairly intriguing film.  Shot for a mere $25 million by indie legend Steven Soderbergh, it's an entirely different kind of action film than people are used to these days.  The story is told mostly through flashbacks as Mallory relates her story to her captive, but the third act catches up to the present and moves on from there.

The film is shot in Soderbergh's usual cold, detached style.  While this works splendidly for the action sequences, allowing us to really see Carano's amazing physicality at work, it also serves to drain a lot of emotion.  Now, there's not much emotion in the script anyway.  Even when Mallory goes to her father (Bill Paxton) for help, it's mostly played very cold.  This is an issue I've had with previous films from Soderbergh; his films so often feel lat and detached, and it's hard to care about the characters.  Even Mallory's young hostage doesn't seem to react with the kind of sheer panic he should probably be feeling.

The plot is interesting enough, once all the twists are finally revealed in the film's final moments.  But you'll spend much of the film wondering just what in the hell is going on and why any of it is happening until about five minutes before the movie is over.  So the only thing to keep our attention is the action sequences, and, frankly, Carano herself.

Gina Carano isn't really an actress.  She's a former MMA fighter who has had a couple of brief roles and appeared on "American Gladiators" until she landed this lead role.  While she doesn't display a lot of range, and some of her line readings are fairly flat, she commands the camera with her presence.  And, of course, she totally owns the fight sequences.  A centerpiece hand-to-hand dustup between Carano and Michael Fassbender is a joy, and even kind of sexy, as the two duke it out in their hotel room in their evening wear.

The rest of the fights and the action in the film are equally cool, though many are brief.  An opening scuffle with Channing Tatum lets you know the kind of stuff you're in for.  It's not overly stylized, and there are no quick cuts or shaky camera shots here.  Soderbergh very smartly just shows us the fight, occasionally cutting according to certain natural rhythms that come from the moves (Mallory's final confrontation with Kenneth, for example).  It's a great display of Carano's abilities, but also the actors that Soderbergh surrounds her with.

But Soderbergh's films remain difficult for mainstream audiences to latch on to.  The lack of real emotion and the slow pace of the action compared to bigger budget action spectaculars makes "Haywire" an action film for the arthouse crowd.  It's editing and music almost make it feel like a 70s thriller.  I enjoyed it, because I always enjoy technically well-crafted action, and "Haywire" has lots of that (and, frankly, Carano is rather lovely) but your mileage may vary.