Depending on how you count Che, this is either my fourth or fifth Steven Soderbergh movie of the year, and each one couldn’t be any more different. He’s probably the most experimental A-list director working today, and one of my personal favourites.
I think I’m in love.
Mallory Kane is an elite former Marine turned “private contractor” (mercenary). On a mission in Dublin, she is betrayed and left for dead. Unfortunately for those responsible, Mallory isn’t so easy to kill. Fighting her way back up the food chain, she is determined to find out who gave the order to kill her, and to make them pay.
The first thing that strikes you about Haywire is how stunningly attractive Gina Carano is. The second thing that strikes you is her fist. After several years as a muay thai and MMA fighter, she is perfectly suited to show up in movies and beat the crap out of an entire parade of leading men. And it is more than a little fantastic to watch.
Soderbergh reunites with screenwriter Lem Dobbs, who also wrote Kafka and The Limey, to tell this lean and fast-moving story. The film is as trim as its leading lady, moving from one concussive action sequence to the next with exposition and plot being almost grudgingly parsed out in between. As with his other flicks, what plot there is is handled with some intelligence. When the movie finishes you can look back and understand what has happened, but you need to keep your wits about you to keep track of who is betraying whom at any given moment.
In my review of Abduction, I suggested that John Singleton was using the same logic as Soderbergh does here in terms of casting: surrounding an untested lead with a veritable cavalcade of established and respected acting talent. Now that I’ve actually seen Haywire, I can tell you that the experiment is much more successful here. The character of Mallory has undoubtedly been tailored to her strengths, but Carano definitely has some presence in front of a camera, and as sparse as they might be, she handles the dramatic scenes without breaking the film’s spell.
As for her co-stars, Michael Fassbender probably fares best. The first half of the Dublin sequence is a great little exercise in subtext and building tension, segueing into a hotel room fight that was shot entirely without stunt doubles as Paul and Mallory knock seven bells out of each other. Ewan McGregor is clearly relishing the chance to be extra slimey as Mallory’s duplicitous boss Kenneth. Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas are saddled with rather clichéd roles, even compared to everyone else, but each still delivers their trademark charisma.
For my money, one of Soderbergh’s most important collaborators of the last decade or so is composer David Holmes. The music in Haywire again dips back into that kind of sixties, jazzy sound that served the Ocean’s movies so well, helping to create the sense that despite the modern trappings, this movie is a throwback to a different era when action films where less about grand explosions and slow-motion gunfights and more about hand to hand brutality. To place it on the Bond Scale, Haywire is more Thunderball than Die Another Die, and all the better for it.