Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Haywire (2012)

Image: Momentum Pictures

When Steven Soderbergh takes on a film like Haywire you know you can’t expect a standard action thriller. He’s a director with a very specific agenda. Some of his films we love, some we hate. This looked like a B-movie with an A-list cast but we doubted that it would be that simple.

Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is a CIA-trained ex-Marine turned gun for hire. When she’s double-crossed by her slimy boss Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), she wants to find out why.

In terms of plot, that’s about all you’re getting. Mallory’s ostensibly on a mission to unearth the reason behind her betrayal but the film’s not big on plot development, or character for that matter. The plot is less important than the mechanics of the action movie storyline. Everything is stripped down to its most essential elements. The why is not the important thing, a point hammered home by an ending that will likely irritate many (though we liked it).

Soderbergh and writer Lem Dobbs previously collaborated on art-house revenge film The Limey back in 1999, and Haywire’s a similarly tricky proposition.  Each of the action sequences are presented in a deliberately unusual way. An early gun battle is shot in slow-motion with no diagetic sound, only David Holmes’ funky score and none of the sound effects. The punch-ups are the opposite, with no music at all, only the sounds of the fight itself.

And how about those fights? Well it’s not quite a non-stop beat ‘em up. Despite Soderbergh’s decision to strip away anything that might prove distracting there are a few quiet patches. The film reaches its high point with the much publicised fight between Carano and Michael Fassbender in a hotel room, which comes fairly early on in proceedings. It’s convincingly brutal and electrifying to watch.

Carano, known for her skills as a mixed martial artist, equips herself fairly well in her first role. The character of Mallory doesn’t demand a huge amount in terms of acting which is probably for the best. The rest of the cast fit neatly into types so don’t expect much stretching: McGregor’s the slippery villain, Fassbender’s the suave Brit, Tatum’s the dumb muscle, Michael Angarano is the kid, Bill Paxton is Mallory’s dad, Michael Douglas is the shady government figure, and Antonio Banderas is the mysterious bearded Spaniard. Everything you need to know about these characters, you know within a few seconds of their appearance.

There’s something compelling about its streamlined, no-frills approach but the sense of humour veers a little too often between sly and snarky. It’s cleverer than it looks and the fight scenes are tremendous but Soderbergh’s slanted view is a mixed blessing.

Verdict: A little heartless and mechanical for the art-house and it’s too calculated to be purely enjoyable as a popcorn movie, but that seems to be part of the point. If you let yourself go with it, it’s an enjoyably considered and unusual take, and when Soderbergh unleashes Carano on the A-listers it’s thrilling.

3/5

JH

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