Thursday, February 2, 2012
Haywire Movie Review
Before going to see Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire I kept referring to it as “the ass-kicking movie.” It’s hard to argue that I was wrong in my terse description. The whole thing is a ruse to showcase the talents of Mixed Martial Arts competitor Gina Carano in several brutal action fight scenes.
The film opens with a cracker of a fight scene. The stage is set in a tranquil roadside diner somewhere in upstate New York. Mallory (Carano) approaches cautiously, enters and sits down. She’s soon joined by Aaron (Channing Tatum) and their conversation reveals tidbits of a plot we’re not yet privy to. The dialogue here is not the lazy expository garbage of your typical action film. Instead they speak like characters who already know the history and have no concern for the audience’s knowledge. Suddenly and without warning, Aaron has thrown his coffee in Mallory’s face and smashed the cup on her head before they start brawling in the tight confines between the counter and the booths.
The sound design sets the tone for the rest of the action, using more natural effects than what you’re probably accustomed to. Despite what movies have led us to believe, when someone gets punched there is no earth shattering crack and smash. Soderbergh’s editing (under the pseudonym Mary Ann Bernard) is controlled, allowing us to experience the fights in a way that doesn’t confuse our brain’s innate understanding of the laws of motion and reality. We can see that the actors are doing their own stunts, a task that was probably fairly simple for Carano, but a Herculean task for Tatum, whose experience in romantic dramas has not prepared him for this.
Mallory manages to escape, commandeering a young man’s car and taking him along for the ride. This guy Scott (Michael Angarano) is remarkably calm considering what he’s just witnessed. He’s also very accommodating in listening to her story, which takes us back to Barcelona and the job that set up the eventual diner incident.
Mallory is one of these ex-Marine private contractors who goes in and conducts little covert operations that the US Government can’t be officially involved in. The Barcelona job – which had Aaron as a team member – was to ‘extract’ a kidnapped man named Jiang from his captors and hand him over to Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas), a man working for the US State Department. The job goes as planned and then Mallory is asked to do another job within hours of arriving home. Her employer and recently ex-boyfriend, Kenneth (Ewan McGregor – slightly unbelievable as a private contractor) sets her up on a job in Dublin with a British agent named Paul (Michael Fassbender). There she discovers Jiang dead with evidence in his hand that will incriminate her as the murderer. Back in the hotel Paul tries to kill her.
Nothing makes much sense either to us or to Mallory, though she’s adept at evading the Irish Garda and making her way back to the United States on fake IDs. The one ally she has to help her come in safely is a government bureaucrat named Coblenz (Michael Douglas). He’s the man who specifically requested her for the Barcelona job, in a scene that unfairly breaks the narrative construction of using Mallory’s perspective to tell the story.
The mysterious details are filled in late in the film with a couple of half-clever devices. First is Mallory’s father (Bill Paxton), the one person with whom she is completely honest. As an ex-Marine they share a bond that stretches further than the typical father-daughter relationship. There’s a scene that takes place in his secluded New Mexico home that starts to bring the details of the plot to light. The second is a new spin on the talking killer scene. Instead of the scene remaining with the hero and the killer telling his story, the film takes us to the flashbacks in a style similar to Soderbergh’s sleight of hand techniques used in the Ocean’s films to explain how it all happened.
For a January release Haywire is about as good as they come, its occasional narrative inconsistencies notwithstanding. It’s a slick production as Soderbergh’s films typically are. Lem Dobbs’ story and screenplay, like The Limey (also directed by Soderbergh), inflects some much-needed freshness into the action genre. The presence of actors like Douglas, McGregor, Banderas and Fassbender, who can really deliver on a performance is key to selling it. Tatum leaves something to be desired or maybe he just irks me on a personal level. But Gina Carano is the real find. Soderbergh may have found a new female action star who can be convincing as tough while delivering convincing dialogue.
Like I said, though, the plot is a device used to put some really great looking stunts and fight scenes in a movie. It maybe has slightly more to say about the world than Ocean’s 11 with its subtle commentary on the nature of black ops and private contractors and the lack of transparency and oversight involved, but it falls severely short of something like Traffic. At the end of the day Haywire is an action film and most action film plots are mere inconveniences that stand in the way of producers who want to blow stuff up real good. If you decide to see it, just count yourself lucky that there are still filmmakers who want to entertain but do it in such a way that is both brief (the film’s running time is about 1 hour shorter than the last Transformers movie) and not mind-blowing in the way it insults your intelligence.