Should I Watch..? 'Haywire' (2011)
What's the big deal?
Haywire is an action thriller film released in 2011 and marks the debut lead performance by mixed martial artist (MMA) Gina Carano. Shot and directed by Steven Soderbergh, it features Carano as a Black Ops agent betrayed by her organisation and out for revenge. The film is part of a ongoing trend in Hollywood featuring female leads in action actions such as Angelina Jolie in Salt, Saoirse Ronan in Hanna and Salma Hayek in Everly. What makes the project unusual is that Soderbergh is mainly associated with dramatic or comedic films like the Ocean's Eleven remake and The Good German - this is his only action movie to date and it does feel like a severe change of pace. It also helps that Carano performs her own stunts in the movie, making her one to watch in future.
What's it about?
The film opens in a small diner in Upstate New York where former Marine Mallory Kane is waiting for someone. But it's not who she's expecting - her one-time colleague Aaron walks in and demands that she comes with him but she refuses and after incapacitating Aaron, escapes with fellow diner Scott in Scott's car. Scott demands to know what's going on and Mallory tells him.
After successfully rescuing an imprisoned journalist from his captors in Spain, Mallory is given an assignment by her boss Kenneth to escort an MI6 agent to a party in Dublin and pose as his wife. Upon meeting Paul, she quickly discovers the journalist dead and herself framed for his murder. Realising she's been set up, Mallory barely escapes from the party alive and must decide who to trust as she goes after those responsible.
What's to like?
Carano is undoubtedly the most exciting prospect for a female action star we have seen in a long time. She can certainly hold her own when it comes to the rough stuff and easily convinces during the film's many action sequences. She is also well supported by the sort of cast you'd expect to be lined up for a director of Soderbergh's calibre. The film rattles along at a crackling pace, wasting little time in setting up the plot and not stopping after a big scene to let you catch your breath.
The script also delivers, making the film feel more like a traditional thriller than the action-blast it wants to be. It cleverly keeps the viewer in the dark as much as possible and only reveals what it needs to whenever poor Mallory uncovers the information. Haywire is a bit smarter than your average girl-with-gun picture and it's definitely not one for making your mind wander. Attention is maintained at all times and trust me, it needs to.
- Carano's voice was dubbed over by Laura San Giacomo who appeared in Soderbergh's debut film Sex, Lies And Videotape.
- During the fight scene with Fassbender, Carano was supposed to miss hitting him with the vase but connected after an adrenaline rush. Being the first fight scene filmed, Carano was convinced she was about to be fired but both Fassbender and Soderbergh were OK with it.
- The film was originally called "Knockout" when it was announced in September 2009. In Japan, the film is simply called "Agent Mallory".
What's not to like?
You do get the feeling that Soderbergh is slightly out of his depth here. The material just doesn't suit him and would have been better handled by an action specialist, say John Woo or John McTiernan. And as great as she is in the fight scenes, Carano's acting can best be described as a work-in-progress - Mallory never seems like a real person, one you can't imagine telling a risqué joke at the office party or helplessly falling in love. She's there to kick some ass and that's it. The tactic of surrounding her with more accomplished actors is a gamble that doesn't pay off, making her look uneasy and awkward.
The script doesn't offer too many surprises although it leaps about from scene to scene with scant regard for how well we're following the story. Little about the film flows naturally and because it has to wrap itself up in a little over 90 minutes, the film sacrifices cohesion at the expense of pace. What could and should have been a tense and taut thriller becomes a series of well-performed action sequences linked by talky scenes that quickly move the plot along in time for the next sequence of fisticuffs and gun fights.
Should I watch it?
Carano demonstrates some potential but Haywire is a bit of a short circuit, I'm afraid. It doesn't convince as a thriller, mainly due to Carano's limited acting range and some suspect editing, while the action scenes are good but not especially memorable. Soderbergh might have felt like tackling a different genre to what he may be used to but his considerable talent as a director is wasted here.
Great For: viewers waiting for a decent female action star, Dublin residents
Not So Great For: Soderbergh's confidence, demanding action fans, fans of Hanna
What else should I watch?
The reason I refer to Hanna is because while it may be similar on paper to Haywire, the two couldn't be any more different. Hanna has a more interesting protagonist in Saoirse Ronan's teenage super-assassin brought up alone in the woods by her paranoid father and a more interesting tone as it feels unearthly and slightly like a warped fairy-tale. The soundtrack by the Chemical Brothers also helps.
Like I said at the start, there are a few girls-with-guns movies making a real impact at the moment. Jolie put the ghosts of Lara Croft to rest in Salt while Zoe Saldana did her bit in Colombiana which also disappointed somewhat. Perhaps the best film to watch is the one that seemed to kick off this recent trend - Chloe Grace Moritz played the foul-mouthed superhero Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass to absolute perfection and is aided by Nicholas Cage's pitch-perfect imitation of Adam West.
Release Date (UK)
18th January, 2012
© 2015 Benjamin Cox