Tuesday, March 20, 2012

New Release Review: Haywire (Steven Soderbergh, 2012)

Haywire, the new film from Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven and Contagion), who has been a busy man since announcing his retirement from filmmaking, feels like one of his experimental films – this time tackling the spy thriller/action genre for the first time. The screenplay is taut and lean, but lacklustre in the fact that it is often void of point or coherence, has an unsatisfying conclusion, and is often unable to maintain an audience’s engagement when the screen isn’t occupied by a chase or a fight sequence.


Still, Haywire is a very cool film, and has lots of Soderbergh’s recognisable traits. The non-linear, montage-style narrative structure, informing us how an event came to happen after the fact and the large ensemble cast of A-list Hollywood actors. The clean and inventive digital photography (and Soderbergh shot and edited Haywire himself), with Soderbergh’s usual array of filters, and the funky soundtrack from David Holmes (who also scored the Ocean’s films) greatly enhance the film’s often-stagnant energy. This is a film with plenty of visual style, but unfortunately not much holding the fantastic action sequences together. To a degree, this is forgivable.

Haywire focuses on Malory Kane (Gina Carano), a special agent who works for private contractors, completing reconnaissance missions with other international agents around the world. We are introduced to her when she arrives at a diner awaiting a former colleague of hers. It seems like she has been off the grid for a while. Turns out she is a wanted woman - and as the film develops, we learn that it is following a pair of missions, one in Barcelona and one in Dublin, where she has been set up for the murder of a journalist. Learning this, she goes on the run, trying to evade the highly skilled combatants that pursue her, discovering who is behind the double-cross, and ensuring they are held responsible. 



The film’s cast is one of the most puzzling elements of the film. The physical capabilities of Gina Carano, a now-retired MMA fighter who does all her own stunts in the film, ensure that the fight sequences are convincing. They are made even more convincing by the way Soderbergh captures them – in an often lengthy stationary shot making the struggle easily discernible, without an accompanying score, and not exaggerated by incredible manoeuvres by the actors. We know Malory is an ass-kicker, and in her desperation to evade her pursuers, her takedowns often require skilful grappling moves and messy flings around the room. They aren’t glamorous takedowns, but ones where we see both combatants desperate to gain the advantage and avoid compromising positions.

The best sequence is the one involving Carano and Michael Fassbender (who adds his charisma to yet another film) in the Dublin hotel room they are staying. While we get wind of what is sure to happen, the fact that the scuffle comes out of nowhere (and this is a great trait of the film – several emerge from literally nothing) and involves Carano wearing a dress, is nothing short of sensational. Also, there is a lengthy chase scene through the streets and over the rooftops of Dublin shortly after, which is also superbly done.

Having said that all that, Carano doesn’t fare so well in the dialogue exchanges. With an odd expression that always seems to contain a half smile, she seems to be too wary of her delivery - blunt and without much conviction or confidence. She is surrounded by a talented male cast – including an excellent Fassbender as her associate on the Dublin mission, Channing Tatum, quite good as a former associate of Mallory, who is the first to come into contact with her instructed to take her down, and Ewan McGregor, as Mallory’s former lover and boss. Bill Paxton, who plays Mallory’s father, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas and Matthieu Kassovitz all appear in small roles that really could have been played by anybody. None of them are given much to do, nor developed sufficiently. Paxton is perhaps the most impressive – finally discovering who his daughter is, and placing his life in danger to cover for her.


The film, understandably actually, has not fared well with audiences, despite the mostly positive critical acclaim, and this might have something to do with the very limited release here in Australian cinemas. I feel like I was lucky to see this film. I am sure glad I did, because despite the narrative flaws – I really didn’t like the film’s structure of Mallory recounting her missions in Barcelona and Dublin to a stranger in a vehicle, ensuring that he (and we) remember everyone’s names along the way. Also, despite the pretty obvious twists and turns, the film is a treat on a technical level, and features some astounding action set pieces. At times I was barely attentive, at other times I was on the edge of my seat. Ultimately, it is far from Soderbergh’s best film, but as a debut foray into the action genre, it is still an impressive accomplishment.


My Rating: ★★★ (B-)

9 comments:

  1. I liked this film a bit more than you, but I understand your minor aversion to it. It was cool and badass, but lacking in some areas. I had a few continuity issues: wouldn't her face be burnt to shit after having coffee thrown in it? And why aren't her bruises more noticeable? She's constantly getting the shit kicked out of her, but you could never tell by looking at her face.

    Beyond that, I really dug it, but I'm a huge sucker for Soderbergh.

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    1. Yeah, there were a few continuity issues - but I wasn't a fan of the film's structure, and I'm not sure why such a cast was required. Everyone phoned it in. I like Soderbergh too - and there were lots of aspects I thought were cool - but it was just lacking energy, and a sense of purpose. There were times I was drifting off, and others where I was really into it.

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  2. Andy, I'm also willing to forgive some of the flaws because I found the movie so entertaining. The only parts that I thought were awkward were the dialogue exchanges with the young guy she kidnaps at the diner. That framing structure didn't work that well.

    I know a lot of people have complained about Carano's acting when she's not in fights, but it didn't bother me. I also do think Paxton, Douglas, and Banderas bring something to the table even if their characters are thin. Paxton especially hints at a lot more beneath the surface in just a few moments. I think one of the reasons I didn't mind Carano was because she was working with such heavyweights. Either way, it was an very enjoyable movie.

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    1. Oh totally. I didn't like the framing structure either, but I the film's B-level coolness overshadowed the messy plotting and thin characters. I loved Carano in the fight/chase scenes, but she was exposed in the acting scenes - and I don't think anyone else supplied enough energy (except perhaps Fassbender) to mask her weakness. Still, I enjoyed it - but I didn't come out particularly satisfied.

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  3. I enjoyed the movie a whole lot, and wasn't bothered by most of the things you were. I understand your complaints to some degree, but for the kind of movie this is, I don't think they mattered. In going for a stripped-down, '70s B-level taut-action thriller feel, I think Soderbergh succeeded beautifully. I don't get your beef with the ending, though - unsatisfying? I thought it was perfect.

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    1. I do like Soderbergh, and I loved his stylistic choices. That score has been playing on repeat since the screening too. I guess the final fight on the beach was a tad anticlimactic - but it was a killer last line. "Oh shit". I am glad you liked it, and it is the sort of film that I would come back to again and am sure I would enjoy more.

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