Friday, May 11, 2012

Review: Haywire

What do you do when you cast an incredibly green actress in Gina Carano best known as a Mixed Martial Artist as the lead in your espionage action film?  If you have the clout of a director like Steven Soderbergh (Ocean's 11, Contagion), the answer is to surround her with a highly accomplished cast loaded with players that possess the acting wherewithal to impact a film in limited screen time.  The net result is a film narrative that is brisk and entertaining, albeit somewhat thin on the character development side.

The movie starts in medias res and focuses on a double-cross gone wrong.  Carano plays Mallory Kane – an ex-Marine working as a private contractor in the world of espionage, who must piece together the who, what, when, and where in hopes of answering the question of why she was double-crossed. 

The plot of the film is as no nonsense as Carano herself.  Right from the outset, it takes off at a brisk pace and never stops to take a breath, dote on unnecessary details, or engage in extraneous storytelling right up until the closing credits.  Carano’s onscreen presence, the work of the supporting cast, and Soderbergh’s direction contribute to a finished product that fuses the raw brutal physicality of The Bourne Identity with the stylized feel of Ocean’s 11.  And as is usual with Soderbergh’s brand of storytelling, there is an element of cool sophistication that makes you feel like you are watching a film that is far more cerebral and highbrow than it really is.

As a lead, Carano is limited.  She is nowhere near a polished actress, but she doesn’t have to be as her character does most of her communicating with fists and guns.  In fact, the movie itself is prone to long stretches without dialogue and when a meaningful line needs to be uttered, Soderbergh leaves that heavy lifting for one of the more seasoned veterans. 

What really works about this film is the supporting cast.  Ewan McGregor and Michael Fassbender play the most complex characters – duplicitous and nefarious – and whereas Carano drives the brute physical action, these two actors are catalysts for the more cerebral aspects of the plot.  Grouped with Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, and Bill Paxton, the cast ensures that there is no shortage of twists, turns, and bad guys for Carano to dominate. 

Where the film is lacking is in character development, although part of me believes this is by design.  The movie isn’t about life lessons, liminal moments, or catharsis.  It’s about the business of soldiers-for-hire  and one specific double-cross.  Anything that falls outside this scope is of no consequence to the film.

I would recommend this movie, although I offer the caveat that it is not for everyone.  Films are often incredibly chatty.  This is not a bad thing, as it’s a way for writers to flex their creative muscle.  So if you are a fan of witty banter or emo soliloquies, then Haywire is not the film for you.  But if you are fan of a more subtle and authentic brand of action as the driving force of a film, you will definitely enjoy this movie.  It is a solid rental, worthy of a Saturday night.  Should you find yourself a fan of Carano by time the end credits role, look for her next in The Fast and the Furious 6 opposite Mark Vincent Diesel and Paul Walker.

Standout Performance:  Amongst a strong supporting cast, I particularly enjoyed seeing Bill Paxton’s in a feature film again.  It wasn’t on par with his work in Aliens, but his work does bring some emotional elements to the movie.


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