Saturday, February 23, 2013

Haywire (2011)

Visually Stunning - Ass Kicking - Star Making

- Have you ever felt, looking back, that a film was practically tailor-made for your tastes? I felt this way about Steven Soderbergh’s little-recognized 2011 action/espionage film Haywire.

Mix Martial Arts (MMA) icon Gina Carano stars as Mallory, a world-class professional thief, killer, spy, liberator; whatever the job calls for, she will do. She kicks ass and takes names, if she needs to bother taking them at all. After much time aiming her talents at the targets designated by her employer and former lover Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), Mallory suddenly becomes a target herself when a line of seemingly unrelated assignments thread into one big strange event. On the run from nearly every criminal, private and governmental organization within reach, Mallory turns her talents inward for this struggle for survival and vendetta against those responsible.

Action films can be great – but not just any action film will do. One can employ the finest physical performers and stunt people on the planet but a film requires more than convincing action scenes to be worthwhile. With notable exception, I have had it with the massed-produced bloated action-packed blockbuster. I enjoy a well-done big, sweeping action film like The Avengers (2012) and The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars Trilogies as much as anybody but when it comes to more conventional ideas of an "action film" give me something slick and stylish like Taken (2008) and most of the James Bond series; or, if you really want to thrill me, throw in a strong sense of character into the story as well like in Blood Diamond (2006) or The Yakuza (1974).

By this criteria, Haywire is simply my kind of action film. Slick and cool from the action to the cinematography to the way the film flows; Haywire is a fun, action-packed but also thoughtful ride. The action is extremely well done, realistic but also fresh and expressive with its inclusion of MMA moves and great visual flare. Of course, a film rarely disappoints in the style department with director Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven (2001)) at the helm. Choosing a strong but subtle sub-contextual presentation, where what is unsaid is more important in creating a thick atmosphere of mystery and intrigue, Soderbergh forms a stand-out action film. Although producing an unquestionably modern feel, Haywire includes a tangible throwback sense that channels the espionage atmosphere of the 60s and 70s with its focus on visual style over explosions or other sensationalist action film clichés. As an admitted fan of Mr. Soderbergh, I found the intricate but refined style of Haywire quite thrilling. From the sharp camera angling, swinging soundtrack and deep color palette, Haywire is classic Soderbergh.

One of the most notable aspects of Haywire is its star, who is new to Hollywood: Gina Carano. Haywire actually owes its very existence to Gina Carano. Director Steven Soderbergh caught some of Carano’s MMA fighting on TV and was so impressed by her that he wanted to craft a film around her – hence Haywire was born from talented screenwriter Lem Dobbs (Dark City (1998)). Creating a film from scratch completely around one person hardly even happens with actors, let alone athletes! Soderbergh obviously saw something real in Carano because, for someone who is not an actor by trade, she is extraordinary here in Haywire. Carano is undoubtedly well suited for the film’s unique action pieces as a world-class MMA fighter but as she thrills audiences with her raw athleticism, she also captivates with her incredible beauty. Whether this is a natural talent or the working of Soderbergh himself, Carano has a very strong and expressive and screen presence; she is quite convincing and compelling on screen, effortlessly selling her character and the story as a whole. Despite the fact that Carano is surrounded by an amazing cast (with the exception of a mumbling, vacant Channing Tatum) – Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Bill Paxton – all of whom give fantastic performances, she absolutely holds her own as the focal point of the film. 

With its stunning style, compelling story, unique action scenes and fantastic cast, Haywire has a lot to offer the often deficient action genre. I look forward to what is next for Gina Carano, as I think she has a lot to offer movies in general as well.

 CBC Rating: 8/10


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