Mark Reviews Movies

Haywire

HAYWIRE

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Cast: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Michael Angarano, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton

MPAA Rating: R (for some violence)

Running Time: 1:33

Release Date: 1/20/12


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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 19, 2012

The heroine of Haywire is as enigmatic as they come. The screenplay reveals only one element of her history throughout the course of the film, and it's a vital one: She was a Marine. That's all we need to know, really, because that's all that matters to her.

In its very structure, the film respects the mystery of its central figure. The story begins in media res, as Mallory Kane (Gina Carano, a mixed martial arts fighter by trade who retired from fighting and now, with her natural poise, stunning physicality, and—if one might be superficial for a moment—equally startling good looks, seems primed to have a promising career ahead of her on screen) is beset on all sides by a group of men who seem far too willing to underestimate her.

The rest is told in flashback, as Mallory relates how she ended up a fugitive from the unwritten but unbreakable law of a private intelligence firm. Since the details of the affair are most important at the moment, that is the puzzle to piece together—not her backstory, her personality, or anything else that might help to explain her outside of her work. This job is what she does and, hence, who she is.

At a diner in Upstate New York, Mallory sits down at a booth for a meeting with her handler only to meet Aaron (Channing Tatum), another operative from the firm for which she works. He needs her to come in, he tells her; she refuses. He pulls a gun, and they fight. It's the sort of fight where we can sense the choreography behind it, yet it's also one that is so brutally quick and with the participants clearly putting their all into it that the awareness of its staging becomes secondary.

Through all the fights, director Steven Soderbergh keeps the camera at a distance and edits the sequence with a jarring rhythm. We anticipate cuts in the action when one of the actors is in the midst of a seemingly impossible movement to hide his or her physical limitations. Such is not the case here; these actors brawl and bash each other into fixtures with aplomb.

This is our first sensation that Carano is someone special. Her husky voice is almost soothing as she attempts to reason with Tatum's character, making the eruption of pinpoint violence on her end all the more of a shock. At varying points throughout the film, Carano impresses with her abilities. She pins herself between a brick wall and an assailant in the middle of a fight, and before that, she sprints at full speed for an extended period of time down the streets of Barcelona after a kidnapping suspect.

The little plot that there is revolves around a job in Barcelona, which has Mallory and Aaron attempting to rescue a captured Chinese dissident. Who the man is and what he might know are unimportant; in fact, when the issue comes up, it's dismissed wholesale. He's merely a MacGuffin, set in place by screenwriter Lem Dobbs so that Mallory has an excuse to travel and beat various men to a pulp.

Soderbergh's use of location is important to the film's success as well. There's the usual chase across rooftops, as Mallory evades police after she's been framed for the dissident's murder. Setting the sequence in Dublin works wonders, as something that is clichéd becomes new again just by the virtue of watching it unfold in a unique locale. A car chase shot from the interior of a car as it plows down the trail of a snowy forest has a similar effect (The punch line to the pursuit, which involves a frightened woodland creature, is also a surprise).

Soderbergh gets a lot of mileage out of his actors, too—casting those men around Mallory as types. Tatum is fine as the burly agent who follows orders without question and, in a crucial moment, is forced to wonder if he should have been asking questions all along. Michael Fassbender has a brief appearance as Paul, Mallory's charming partner in Dublin. The closest the film comes to sex is their preparation for a surveillance mission at a country estate. They take turns showering and dressing, giving Mallory an opportunity to set up a trace on Paul's cell phone. He likes the way she looks in a dress, and the two stand on opposite sides of the hotel room bed, checking their pistols and placing them tentatively under the mattress (The rule of Chekhov's Gun is in full effect here).

Sex is certainly on the mind of Mallory's boss Kenneth, played with slimy opportunism by Ewan McGregor. They were once lovers, and surely he is a bit too preoccupied with her—arriving unexpectedly at her apartment with a key that no longer fits the lock and framing an entire line of questioning about her with queries about whether or not she ever mentioned him—for the conspiracy to be anything but personal. Antonio Banderas and Michael Douglas figure in as government officials who convey such a slick knowledge of political maneuvering that at least one, if not both, of them must be dirty, and Bill Paxton plays Mallory's retired Marine father with much love for his daughter under his rough exterior.

Haywire is brisk and straightforward entertainment that knows exactly how to assemble its players, settings, and scenario for maximum effect. Most importantly, the film announces the arrival of a bona fide action star in Carano.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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