Monday, September 3, 2012


Steven Soderbergh makes stylish movies. I'm not sure quite sure how to describe it beyond the word "cool." He makes cool films. The Ocean's 11 films, Traffic, Out of Sight. Much like director Danny Boyle, he picks a genre and explores its depths and limits. He's been cranking out a plethora of movies recently (Contagion, Magic Mike) and Haywire is his action film.

The premise isn't anything new. On one final job, the spy/assassin gets set up, goes on the run, then seeks revenge as he/she seek to clear their name. What makes Haywire unique is its style and its central character, Mallory Kane. Portrayed by MMA fighter Gina Carano, Mallory is both beautiful and dangerous, with a physical intensity that doesn't sacrifice her femininity.

Haywire has all the action scenes you'd expect, but Soderbergh seems to be having fun with the elements of the genre. The hand-to-hand fight sequences are very long and quite brutal, particularly because they all involve a woman. Call me old-fashioned (or normal), but a guy hitting a woman always makes me feel deeply unsettled. Carano's MMA skills certainly come in handy here, as her physical presence in every fight is exceptional. You don't have to suspend belief to know that she really could beat the tar out of these guys. Carano also shows prowess in a rooftop chase as she runs from swarms of police, scaling buildings and jumping over alleyways with confidence.

The style of Haywire is its strongest element, with a fantastic soundtrack and some exceptional Soderbergh-esque editing skills. The story is told in flashbacks and memories as Mallory relates her story to a hostage/partner she picks up while on the run. The cast is also exceptional, with the talents of Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton, and (my favorite) Michael Fassbender. Each of these guys' role is to support Carano, who leads the entire film with a self-assurance unique to a first-time actress. Soderbergh did this once before with The Girlfriend Experience, having real-life adult actress Sasha Grey portray a high-end call girl. His casting choice pays off, as both give exceptionally authentic performances in their respective roles.

What is the point of films like this? Haywire isn't particularly deep in any way. Its characters are interesting, and though a bit underdeveloped. It's just some mindless fun, where "fun" involves machine guns and fist fights. Perhaps it is exploring some of the expectations and ethos of the action genre. There aren't many female leads in action films, and the few that are don't stand out (all I can think of are Angelina Jolie films, like Salt or Tomb Raider. Maybe the Resident Evil and Underworld films too.) Carano and Soderbergh have done something new here--a female action lead that can confidently hold her own against the Jason Bourne's of the film world. If Bourne wanted to leave a legacy, I'd leave it with Mallory Kane.

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