“They Left Her No Choice”
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender
Synopsis: A black ops super soldier seeks payback after she is betrayed and set up during a mission.
On the face of it, Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire seems like just another example of the thriller sub-genre labelled ‘rogue agent’; yet another variation on a tired old theme that received a brief shot in the arm with the Bourne franchise back in 2002, but which has been slowly lapsing back into a comatose state ever since. But appearances can be deceptive, and although writer Lem Dobbs may have followed the tried and trusted story template – dedicated agent forced to turn on her paymasters in order to clear her name after she is double-crossed – almost everything else about Haywire is just a little different.
The imposing Martial Arts fighter turned American Gladiator turned fitness model Gina Carano plays Mallory Kane, a typically jaded black ops agent, who is assigned to rescue a whistle-blowing journalist held hostage in Barcelona. The job goes smoothly enough, but Kane is then persuaded by her employer Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) to immediately take another job accompanying an agent called Paul (Michael Fassbender, who seems to be in everything these days) to a rendezvous in Dublin. While on the assignation, Kane suspects Paul isn‘t all he claims to be,, and eventually discovers the corpse of the journalist she rescued in Barcelona with a distinctive piece of her jewellery clutched in his hand. Kane realises she has been not very imaginatively set up by someone, but can’t be completely certain just who is trying to have her killed – or why…
Although the plot turns out to be fairly straightforward by the time the end credits roll, it’s all a little confusing while the movie is playing – and not in an intriguing way. Watching it, you feel as though you missed some key scene early on and are forever playing catch up. But the plot is really secondary to the style, something which Haywire has in abundance. You get the impression that every little detail about this movie has been carefully thought out. While that might seem like an obvious statement – after all, few movies are simply thrown together on-set – it’s fair to say that there are plenty of movies out there in which it seems that attention given to one particular aspect of production has resulted in other aspects being neglected.
Perhaps most striking of all is Soderbergh’s unique use of sound – or, on many occasions – his use of its absence. The fight scenes – shot without reverting to that annoying in-your-face shaky-cam most action directors use today to conceal the fact that their pampered stars aren’t really doing much of the actual fighting – often unfold without the usual musical score designed to get the audience’s pulses racing, so we hear every grunt and groan, every painful contact; a scene in which Kane, suspecting that she is being followed, walks and then runs through Dublin streets, is played out with the ambient sound barely registering. It’s an effective trick, one that isolates one of the audience’s senses, and so coaxes it into identifying more closely with Kane and the physical toll of her attempts to shake off her pursuers.
Dialogue is kept to a minimum, possibly because Carano, around whom Soderbergh conceived the film, is not a natural actress – although she gives a reasonable account of herself here, playing a super-cool, emotionless type. To compensate for Carano’s possible deficiencies, Soderbergh assembled a terrific male supporting cast: McGregor as Kane’s morally dubious boss; Michael Douglas as a shady US government agent; Antonio Banderas, barely recognisable behind a thick grey beard as Douglas’s Spanish counterpart; Channing Tatum as a co-agent of Kane’s with whom she has a brief sexual dalliance; Bill Paxton as her father, and Fassbender as yet another shadowy agent. As well as providing the compensatory acting chops, most of these guys receive a thorough beating from Ms Carano at one time or another.
Carano has to be one of the most physically imposing actresses to appear on the screen for some time. There’s something of Angelina Jolie about her in body type and colouring, but Carano possesses a physical dexterity that is beyond Jolie’s reach. From the way Soderbergh uses a mostly static camera to record her frequent fights, it’s clear that it really is Carano up there trading blows with a succession of increasingly dazed looking men.
Haywire might not find favour with fans of more conventional action movies, but if that’s the case, it will be because of its unique style rather than any deficiencies in the movie itself. It’s not a great film, but it is a very good one which would probably find a more appreciative audience in Europe than the States.