Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is a badass operative. She works for a firm who do the jobs the world’s governments don’t want to get involved in. After rescuing a hostage in Barcelona, she finds herself being targeted by members of her own team after discovering she’s been set up, and as well as trying to stay alive, tries to find out just why she got burned and aims to get revenge on those who’ve wronged her.
Steven Soderbergh, as I’m sure those reading this know, is one of America’s most well-respected directors. The cream of the crop flock to work with him as he cherry picks any and every genre he fancies getting involved in and with an apparent break from filmmaking planned, he’s finishing off with a trio of films which couldn’t be any more different. On either side of this we have paranoia infected virus thriller/procedural investigation Contagion, and broad comedy/drama stripper film Magic Mike, but here with have what is essentially an old-school B-movie told with a very much A-list cast ,and with a screenplay written by Lem Dobbs who previously collaborated with Soderbergh on the fantastic Terrence Stamp headlining The Limey, as well as one of the director’s lesser seen works Kafka.
The plotting of Haywire is certainly not one of its strongest points, and this is something I think pretty much anyone would agree with. Cutting through the connective tissue of the film will reveal any number of other like-minded films which have taken issues of being burned by your own people. Indeed, this has that in spades as Mallory runs around trying to work out who is on her side and essentially running up to and punching those who aren’t (one moment late on literally playing like and shot in a way which has me convinced that Soderbergh was in on the joke). Like many action films though, the actual narrative isn’t all that striking, but when the rest of the elements of the film are as honed as they are I’m inclined to give the film a huge benefit of the doubt.
When you think “action” there’s a high likelihood that your mind won’t be screaming “the director of Erin Brockovich!!” so to me it was a bit of a surprise that what we have here is as effective as it is, and that’s down to a combination of incredible fight choreography (coupled with the fact that it looks like no stuntmen were involved at all) and the way in which Soderbergh puts his own stamp on them, particularly in the way that the David Holmes score which is highly present throughout much of the film barely, if ever, makes an appearance during these sequences. Instead you hear either the grunts of people engaged in combat or like in an early scene, a sense of the sound design being drowned out and replaced by muffled bass, a highly subjective POV take which feels exactly like how events would be playing out in Mallory’s head. Other than the shooting style, there’s a huge sense here that everything is being done to make the film feel as realistic as possible when it comes to the fighting, so when Mallory runs, she runs with a constant pace and controls her breathing, when she has to get out of a tricky car based situation, she doesn’t do flash handbrake turns or jumps, she just reverses skillfully while a stunned Michael Angarano looks on, and when being chased through Dublin, she manages to both kick some cop ass but also evades the authorities by trying to blend in, almost at the same time. It’s pulse-pounding stuff which had me wholly engaged throughout with original, inventive action which holds far more interest than 95% of today’s bigger budgeted action fare.
Many have been rather uncharitable to Gina Carano. Soderbergh has a reputation of pairing up his roles with people with like-minded experience in real-life, such as with much of the casting in The Girlfriend Experience for example, and a question I’d ask is what would we rather have with this character? A woman who absolutely fits the part of an ass kicking machine who may occasionally falter when it comes to line delivery or a Hollywood actress who may get away with the performance but would never believable be able to handle the more bone crunching action on show, instead having to rely on face replacement or shots compositions which aren’t as in-your-face as we have here? I’m going to stick with the former thanks and I think Carano does just fine. It does help that around her she’s got actors who are more than capable of raising the general acting bar, though it must be said that Michael Fassbender and Channing Tatum also take memorable beatings where it looks like stuntmen weren’t being used at all on set.
Haywire is a more than solid action flick which manages to craft some genuinely memorable moments thanks to a very game cast and a sense of cool which gives the whole thing a high-class sheen which I for one can only appreciate Soderbergh more for.
Onto the disc itself and we have a rather striking 2.35:1 1080p image to start off proceedings as Soderbergh’s digital cinematography (he working under the alias Peter Andrews as usual) is brought to HD with great clarity and handles the almost constantly changing look of the film well, with the cold of the beginning transitioning to the warm Barcelona and beyond without skipping a beat. It’s obviously a heavily manipulated image but it looks fine and has little of the softness I’ve found some digitally shot films suffering from (the last couple of discs from David Fincher spring to mind). Pairing with this we have a decent, though unspectacular, DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack which is clear throughout and packs a punch in moments but never feels quite as involving as you want it to, a fault maybe with the sound design more than anything else, but it does feel like this track was prepared with a by the numbers approach which if anything takes away slightly from the visceral impact of the visuals.
Onto the extras, and first it’s worth pointing out that in the press release given with this disc, which has been copied online for various articles announcing it, there is a commentary listed which doesn’t actually appear on the disc, a real shame as I’d have loved to hear Soderbergh, Dobbs and Carano talk about the making of the film. What we do have though kicks off with a 15 minute piece which focuses on Carano’s pre Haywire MMA career, including some stunning footage of her first professional fight, before moving on to looking at the big fights within the film, focusing rightly on the brutal Carano/Fassbender duel where it’s confirmed that neither had doubles for the fight and how the two had to have a great level of trust and belief in each other to get the results we see on-screen. This is a solid little doc which I’d have liked to have seen more of. Following this we have a six minute piece where Fassbender, McGregor, Tatum and Banderas talk briefly about working with Soderbergh and Carano which never scratches beneath any real surface. We then get a nine minute piece called “The Characters of Haywire” which is basically a collection of internet trailers focusing on the different aspects to the film’s plot, a feature which isn’t really needed by anyone whose actually seen the whole thing and to finish off we have the UK trailer.
A great film and brilliant video with a competent audio track which is only properly let down by an underwhelming set of extras but still, based on the film alone, this is a hell of an easy recommend from me.
Haywire is out on Blu-Ray and DVD next Monday (21st May) through Momentum Pictures.