Before I can go forward with a review of director Steven Soderbergh’s latest film Haywire, I need to make a confession: I’m a big fan of almost all of his films. Sure, he’s managed to make one or two that don’t exactly work (The Girlfriend Experience comes to mind), but he’s never boring and always tries to push filmmaking and creativity in new and different directions.
Given this, I went into Haywire with somewhat raised expectations due to my fondness for his previous works. As the film unfolded I was struck by several things. First, lead actress and MMA superstar Gina Carano is not only beautiful, I would not want to ever make her angry. She’s that tough.
The film also moves quickly and at a running time of 93 minutes, almost seems a bit short. I think that’s a good thing because at the end, I wanted more.
I was also struck by how similar Haywire is to one of Soderbergh’s earlier films, The Limey (which is also my favorite of his films). I guess one reason could be that screenwriter Lem Dobbs wrote both films.
I’m not saying Haywire‘s similarity to The Limey is a bad thing, it was just interesting. More on that a bit later.
In the film, Carino plays Mallory Kane, a former Marine and current special ops contractor who’s set up by her employer Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) and goes into overdrive to find out why and bring those responsible to justice. Justice in this case being a good beatdown or, occasionally, more.
In addition to Carano, the film features a strong cast including Michael Douglass, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender, McGregor, Channing Tatum and Bill Paxton. They all do very well in the film with McGregor, Fassbender and Douglass being the real standouts.
Carano is obviously extremely capable as a fighter and the action scenes where she’s pummeling (sans stunt double) sometimes several foes at once are well staged, photographed and exciting to watch. Her moves are masterful and she commands the screen during those scenes. It’s only when she’s required to act that her aura of invulnerability breaks down a bit.
It’s not that she’s a particularly bad actor, and next to the tree known as Channing Tatum, she could be the action movie equivalent of Meryl Streep. It’s just that she seems sorta uncomfortable when she has to speak for any length of time. She’s obviously much happier running, jumping, shooting guns and fighting.
I also don’t want to deride Tatum’s performance in the film too much. Compared to his other work, he actually isn’t terrible in Haywire. In fact, it’s the best performance I’ve ever seen him give. Although, that’s not really saying all that much.
Carano’s comfort level may be the reason (or one of them at least) Soderbergh decided to dub and/or alter every line of her dialog in the film. Perhaps she just came across as uncomfortable, or even timid, during dialog scenes. Of course, timid is not something you really want in your action stars.
Whatever the reason, it really doesn’t matter much. When Carano is required to spring into action and beat people to a pulp, she does it with style and an almost balletic flourish that’s truly mesmerizing to watch. And in the end, that’s all you really expect or need from Haywire.
The film exists so Carano’s character can beat people up, shoot them and generally kick ass, not so she can deliver deeply felt soliloquies expressing existential angst about her situation. In other words, she’s not a talker, she’s a doer.
The story is rather thin, however, and presents as a simple, by the numbers revenge tale. It’s as if it was almost an afterthought or simply a bridge to get you from action sequence to action sequence, fight scene to fight scene. It feels familiar and like we’ve seen it al before.
That familiarity is the main reason Haywire reminds me so much of The Limey. It contains many of the same elements and beats of the earlier film including the seemingly unstoppable protagonist bent on revenge and getting to the truth, a confrontation at a house near the end to one of the final mano y mano fights being on a rocky beach — complete with bad guy falling and twisting his ankle.
Fortunately, I like The Limey and I like action movies, so Haywire worked for me. And it’s not like you can’t, as an artist, borrow from yourself.
It’s not like Soderbergh stole the ideas from someone else, they’re his already. Would I have liked Haywire to have a denser, more fulfilling story with a few less holes? Sure. But again, Soderbergh isn’t reinventing the wheel here and that’s not really what you go to a film like Haywire for anyway.
You go to a film like Haywire to see a talented director prove he can take a relatively unknown mixed martial arts fighter and turn her into an action star. You also go to be entertainend and watch some of the best fight scenes ever seen in a film.
On these two counts especially, Haywire delivers. Just don’t expect a lot more and you’ll be very satisfied.