Editor’s note: One of the first in a series of new features presented as a sneak peek to commemorate/kick off Go,See,Talk’s upcoming 3 year anniversary we present this, our first, “Double Take” review. Here, both of our writers Bill and Grady give their thoughts on Steven Soderbergh’s all-star action-fest Haywire.
By Guest Contributing Writer – BILL GRAHAM
Just like the star of the film, Haywire is a lean, taut creation that is both pretty to look at and intriguing. From a cold opening to minimalist production, Steven Soderbergh’s latest is a throwback to B action films of yore, but also a sign that he can keep audiences entertained with a premise we have seen before yet can still enjoy with smart tweaks. Of course, the real curiosity is his casting of newcomer/MMA fighter Gina Carano in the role of heroine and asking questions of gender and power while wrapping it in an entertaining shell. He pulls off this masterstroke by putting her front and center from the film’s beginning. While it could be a crushing mistake, and there are jitters, as soon as she flips around her first opponent, disarming and knocking him out cold, it is hard not to come aboard for the ride.
Black ops agent Mallory Kane (Carano) has been double-crossed. She was on a simple hostage rescue in Barcelona and nothing seemed out of sorts. Her team hands him over and they all go their separate ways. Her next assignment is not quite as smooth, and by the time it ends, she has to go rogue. This puts her in a dangerous spot as she cannot be certain who is on her side anymore. Even we, the audience, are unsure, and the real fun begins as she flees from police while trying to uncover who wants her dead. Except she is not one to sit back and wait; the pursued becomes the pursuer and she is one woman you do not want on your tail.
Surrounding Carano is a who’s who of male leads, including Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender, Bill Paxton, Michael Douglas, and Ewan McGregor. While this may seem like icing on the cake, they become more of the filling inside, occupying important roles yet never stealing the spotlight. Indeed, everything around Carano is spare and low-key. Lem Dobbs’ barebones script helps make sure Mallory receives a fair amount of punishment and makes mistakes. While chased through the streets, she shows how athletic and resourceful she can be, climbing roofs, scooting around ledges, and kicking the ass of anyone who stands in her way. Yet she also runs to the top of a flight of stairs and, out of options, simply busts through a door in a panicked state. If the cops had not seen her, they are certainly onto her now.
The film shines with against-the-grain moves that highlight Carano’s mixed martial arts ability or showcase the action on screen. Overbearing soundtrack elements simply do not exist and there are other beautiful subtleties that help give this a unique twist all its own. The hostage rescue goes down without any vocal cues, with a hyper-realized ear ringing that only allows the thud of an explosion or the clack-clack of a gunfight through. In fight scenes, every kick and punch lands or is blocked with a hollow thump instead of the usual bass-thumping impact sound. One can imagine these are the actual sounds a boom mic picked up while on set. This makes the fights jarringly intimate, and a brutal brawl in a hotel garnered awes, laughs, and a few stunned gasps at key moments. In fact, one may notice a swelling of the cheek on Mallory after that fight that looks all too real. Yet, Carano may be the most interesting element of the film.
Carano once held an impressive undefeated streak in her MMA career and yet she is undeniably attractive. She’s appeared on multiple magazine covers and has been one of the few to break through the male-dominated MMA world, and her beauty was no small part of that. Early on the film held the title Knockout, and the double-entendre was not hard to see then or now. Soderbergh built the film around Carano and plays with this as a brawl in the first five minutes displays Mallory seemingly overpowered by her male opponent after a surprise attack. That she gets help from a Good Samaritan to turn the tide provides more subtext, but from here on out Mallory is often equal if not above the ability of her male opponents. Carano stands as a powerful conundrum in the modern age. Women are often seen as physically weaker, and the mere thought of a brawl between a male and a female typically conjures up visions of abuse and a nearly universal cultural no-no. Yet here, we are asked throughout to reexamine this. She is beautiful, but she is also rough and capable of holding her own. At one point a character remarks that he has never “[taken out] a woman”, to which his employer remarks, “Don’t think of her as a woman. No, that would be a mistake.”
Haywire never goes beyond its charm and does not overstay its welcome. Clocking in at 93 minutes, there is rarely a moment to relax. Carano’s performance simply blends into the background for the most part with more serviceable stretches than awkward “must-not-look-into-camera” moments and limp reads for someone so green. Instead, the flashback scenario used to tell the first half of the story became one of the biggest concerns. While it gives humorous moments as Mallory recounts her story to a willing hostage while driving in his requisitioned vehicle, it also has a tendency to rob the story of some of the flow. Yet towards the end, when a key character suddenly realizes something is awry with what he once believed, it has an impact that makes you realize these are not just caricatures rolling through the narrative. Soderbergh may not dabble in this sort of film very often, but I would be welcome to any further adventures down this path.
By G-S-T Staff Writer – GRADY MAY
Mallory (Gina Carano) is a black ops soldier for hire, who is setup during what is supposed to be a routine mission. Her new mission is to find out who betrayed her, and why. If you are a fan of this genre (action/thriller), then you have a good idea of what to expect from this movie. The fun part, even for movie buffs, is looking for unique intricacies that separate this film from the rest of the pack. The good news is…there are enough tiny nuances to make this film fresh.
While the storyline is not completely unique, by any stretch of the imagination, it is enjoyable to watch. In what seems to be a growing trend, as of late, this action/thriller is somewhat realistic. There were no over-the-top action sequences or wholly unbelievable CG moments. Nothing in this film will make you stop and ponder…”How many millions of dollars did that scene cost to produce?” Haywire is more of a nod to 1970’s action movies. The soundtrack was funky and psychedelic, fused with soul and suspense.
As the movie begins to unfold, there is a strong sense of déjà vu. This movie feels very similar in style to Ocean’s Twelve, as the momentum is building. If you have seen Ocean’s Eleven (2001), Twelve or Thirteen, you will see the correlation. In case you were not aware, Steven Soderburgh (director) directed all three, modern day Ocean’s flicks. More recently, Steven Soderburgh directed Contagion, which was a pleasant twist on the typical apocalyptic, deadly virus scenario. With so many good films on Steven’s résumé, it’s easy to see why this movie flows so well.
With regards to big names, Haywire touts quite the ensemble cast. A couple of the stars have borderline cameo roles, but regardless of face time, everyone delivers on their performances. The three big players, which grace all of the trailers, are Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas and Ewan McGregor. Our leading lady, Gina Carano, may look familiar to those of you who follow MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) and/or American Gladiator (Crush – 2008). While Gina is relatively new to the major motion picture arena, she did quite well in this film. Channing Tatum (Dear John, The Eagle) and others bring levity to the film, giving you small reprieves from fight scenes.
If you are a fan of Gina Carano, then you will enjoy seeing her knock some heads in this multi-faceted, fusion of film eras and styles. If you are a fan of the action/thriller genre in general, this movie is for you. While the film uses a lot of flashbacks, it still allows you to figure things out for yourself. You are not force fed the information on the screen, which is a pleasant surprise. If you’ve seen the movie already, please share your thoughts below. If you haven’t seen the movie, go see it…then come back and talk about it.