Sunday, January 29, 2012

705 - Haywire review



“Haywire” is to Steven Soderbergh what “Kill Bill” is to Quentin Tarantino. Both are examples of auteurs taking a swing at genre films, though the similarities end there. Whereas Tarantino is the cinephile, the fanboy’s fanboy whose love and adulation for these types of film grace every frame, Soderbergh is the artist, the prolific creator who enjoys a good experiment.

Thusly, “Haywire” comes out somewhat on the arty end for an action film, albeit one played straight and with few moments of self-awareness. Pedigree aside, it seems crafted to deliberately occupy late-night timeslots on cable, the kind of well-crafted, efficient thriller that’s just good enough to recommend and not purge from one’s memory. Its ambitions are squarely, accurately, unabashedly aimed somewhere towards the middle.

Gina Carano plays the hero, a privately contracted secret agent with the suitably stern moniker Mallory Kane. Carano isn’t an actress by trade, but a professional mixed martial arts fighter, apparently retired at the ripe old age of 29. Soderbergh has extensive experience placing non-actors in leading roles (see “Bubble” or “The Girlfriend Experience), and here he again proves to have an apt eye for finding talent where none was readily apparent.

Carano’s suitably beautiful and wholly convincing as hand-to-hand combatant capable enough to dispatch men with a great deal of weight on her. After seeing waifish actresses like Zoe Saldana pretend to pulverize 200 lbs men, Carano’s a borderline revelation. That she seems uncomfortable in the quieter moments doesn’t do much to diminish the charisma that Soderbergh brings out during the trailer-worthy parts.

The plot’s what I like to call a Ten Dollar Plot, which is to say that I’ll hand a ten dollar bill to any viewer who can coherently explain the details to me immediately after a viewing. Somehow I was able to ascertain that it involves Kane’s betrayal by her contractor employer, the U.S. government, and possibly the Spanish government, though it’s hard to say.

Here what matters is the action, suitably brutal and filmed in long takes so that we can enjoy the choreography, and the mood, a sort of amalgam of the director’s indie sensibilities and genre convention. Soderbergh is sparing with the music and light with his actors, lending an easygoing feel not common to straight action films that see the deaths of the lion’s share of the characters.

Carano might be virtually unknown outside of MMA fandom, but not the rest of the cast: Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton, and Channing Tatum, all of whom play spies, tough guys, or bureaucrats. Their stardom not only lends gravitas to the picture and supporting roles which otherwise prove generally unremarkable, but it’s always nice to see a familiar face when you’re watching an action heroine smash it in.

3.5 out of 5

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