Bottom Line: Soderbergh goes Haywire.
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Aaron Cohen, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum, Ewan McGregor, Gina Carano, Mathieu Kassovitz, Michael Angarano, Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender
It’s official: Hollywood is finally straying away from their sexist assessments of the spy genre. For years, spies have been distinctly male. It seems that a trend is beginning now in which a spy film with a female heroine is released each year. In 2010, it was Angelina Jolie in SALT. Last year, it was Saoirse Ronan in HANNA. HAYWIRE is the introduction of MMA fighter Gina Carano into the film industry. It’s ironic that her name drowns in a see of well-known actors, yet her fresh lead performance stands out above all those actors.
I’m very familiar with the espionage ilk in which HAYWIRE resides. I’ve seen all twenty-two James Bond films, the entire Bourne trilogy, two installments in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series, and more. Quite frankly, the film isn’t an inventive addition to the genre. As far as its plot, it isn’t terribly innovative either, nor was it intended to be. The film centers on a woman named Mallory Kane (Gina Carano), seeking revenge on the ones who betrayed her and set her up during a mission. The script is what makes us forget about the familiar story. In fact, the writing tackles the story so phenomenally, we often become too caught up in the tremendous amounts of pulsepounding thrills to rationalize a plot. Gina Carano’s rapid skill with martial arts produces some of the most well-done, fast-paced action sequences I’ve seen in a while. Just as well, her believable performance generates some of the suspense you wouldn’t expect to find in a film subject to a January release.
If there is one quality that defines HAYWIRE’s excellence any more than skillful performing and writing, it’s style. Director Steven Soderbergh knows how to spot out a technical crew that can do their jobs well (save for the titles that seem a much better fit for a shampoo commercial). These qualities are an unmistakable nod to old-fashioned spy stories. I mean we don’t even have to have seen any of these tales on television or in film to recognize the allusion. There is one scene in particular that uses the method in a particularly effective way. For at least seven minutes, all audio is muted as we see Mallory moving from one destination to the next. Instead we hear an extended anthem that sounds as if composed under the influence of the themes from DR. NO or MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. The cinematography varies between a plethora of angles. The most memorable is the “bird’s eye view”; when paired with black and white filming, it’s like watching security camera footage.
HAYWIRE stands out among many other action movies made within the past two years. Quite a few actioners produced recently you’d need to mentally dumb down to sufficiently enjoy. They rarely seemed to excel beyond the dramatic importance of a videogame. HAYWIRE is different. It sets its tasteful action sequences against everything that makes a film of almost any other genre succeed. I’m not one to join in hype and anticipation for sequels, and the ending certainly suggested one. This may be the one sequel I will wait for with bated breath.