Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Lem Dobbs
Starring: Gina Carano, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas
Steven Soderbergh’s exhilarating Haywire begins with a jaw-dropping fight in a café between mixed martial arts star Gina Carano and current “It Boy” Channing Tatum. The scene is so well crafted, so immediate and intense, that it actually hurts to watch. Every punch, every kick, every bone-crack has a weight and a physical relationship to the surroundings. It’s a spectacularly shot and choreographed sequence that sets the bar pretty high for the rest of the film. While Soderbergh is unable to sustain the incredible momentum of this great scene, he does end up delivering a smart, engrossing little action film regardless.
American Gladiators star Carano gives a compelling performance as Mallory Kane, a black-ops agent for a government security contractor. After helping to free a Chinese journalist taken hostage in Barcelona, Kane is sent on what she is told will be an easy mission in Dublin. It turns out that she’s been set up to take the fall for a murder connected to the Barcelona job. After barely surviving an attempt on her life, she finds herself on the run as she simultaneously tries to discover the truth behind the frame-up.
Haywire could not have been made with any other actress. The fight sequences and stunt work are all Carano and give the film an intensity it otherwise would not have had. In every action sequence, the camera stays with her front and center. There are very few editing tricks and apparently no CG enhancements. After years of heavily edited and computerized action films, it’s energizing to watch these sequences play out. It’s a shame more people didn’t see this in a theater where these amazing set pieces could be fully appreciated.
Carano also possesses a natural acting ability that, although sometimes a bit reserved, works well enough for her enigmatic character. Though she may be relatively new to acting, the supporting players are an impressive lineup of respected veterans. Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas and Ewan McGregor all show up as government agents with various agendas. It is especially fun watching Douglas, back in top form, as the high-powered agency head Coblenz. Bill Paxton is solid as Kane’s reclusive novelist father, and Tatum shows some depth in the small but pivotal role of Kane’s partner Aaron.
While this story has been told many times before, Lem Dobbs’ smart, efficient screenplay adds enough twists to keep the narrative interesting. He also seems quite fond of Renny Harlin’s underrated The Long Kiss Goodnight and offers up a few references, including the protagonist’s name. Under his usual pseudonyms Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard, Soderbergh was also director of cinematography and editor, respectively.
Soderbergh's camera work here is exceptional and begs the question, why doesn't he make more action films? A continuous shot of Carano running through the streets of Barcelona with the camera following her in a tight medium shot is breathtaking. Composer David Holmes, who did some great work on the Oceans films, has created a memorable, propulsive soundtrack. It subtly comments on the action without ever being intrusive. They don’t make American action films like this anymore.
The Lionsgate DVD is a bit underwhelming. Soderbergh has always been known as an actor’s director, but his work here with Carano (more of a collaboration) is exceptional. If any of his recent films warranted a director commentary, it would be this one. They didn't bother. There was also a memorable trailer cut for the movie that should have been included. It isn't. The DVD package features two short making-of pieces: the semi-interesting Gina Carano in Training and a typical PR short called The Men of Haywire.
This great little action movie surely deserved a better DVD release, but don’t let that dissuade you from watching it. Haywire is one of the best pure action films I have seen in a long time.