Haywire has style, almost too much style. Since it is a Steven Soderbergh film, a certain amount of gloss and creative camera shots are expected, but Haywire has more gloss and polish than average. It also has in-your-face brutal violence. There are relatively few firearms; the violence is one-on-one mortal combat to the death between somewhat evenly matched opponents, even though one of the fighters is a woman. It’s The Limey with extended camera sequences and an absolutely gorgeous protagonist.
Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is a private contractor with a particular set of lethal skills. You hire her to rescue hostages, take down gangs, etc… Her boss and ex-boyfriend, always a good combination, is Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) who sets up her missions. Their firm is hired by Alex Coblenz (Michael Douglas) who represents some nameless government agency and a State Department functionary with a very fuzzy role in all of this is Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas).
It does not really matter who works for who or exactly how each piece of the confusing plot puzzle is set up, the film focuses in close-up on Mallory and her quest to not only survive, but to achieve revenge. Mallory is being set up for murder. We do not know why but somebody wants her out of the picture. Is it Kenneth, Rodrigo, or Alex? Maybe it is even one of her co-workers, perhaps the physically capable but not so bright Aaron (Channing Tatum) or the suave Paul (Michael Fassbender). Figuring out who the puppet master is behind the curtain is also a small sub-plot; let’s get back to Mallory.
Gina Carano shows zero emotion on her face, even after she head butts enemies, breaks vases on their heads, and chokes them out with her legs. In real life, she was a professional Muay Thai fighter before switching to acting. She was cast in the TV show American Gladiators, not the game show but the scripted one, which is where Soderbergh saw her. Screenwriter Lem Dobbs, who worked with Soderbergh previously on The Limey and Kafka, wrote the script specifically for Carano and I imagine the rest of the A-list cast raised their hands to join because they wanted to work with one of the best directors in the business. Douglas is back again after starring in Soderbergh’s Traffic.
Soderbergh made some very specific and very effective choices in his version of a straight up action thriller. The shots are much longer than the standard blink and you miss a jump-cut editing style for fight scenes. Mallory is shown in what seems like minute long takes walking down the street detecting surveillance on her or driving a vehicle in reverse very fast. Audiences have been taught to expect quick second long edits during chase and fight scenes which make them appear faster and more hectic. Not in Haywire. The fight scenes are uninterrupted and gruesome slug-fests. The characters actually bleed and stumble around as they would in a real fight.
I also noticed the music and sound effects, or lack of them. Regular actions films tend to pump up the volume during chases and flying fists. Soderbergh turned the music off. The audience only hears grunts, fists colliding with jaws, and painful groans when they connect. When firearms go off, it actually sounds like a pistol shot instead of a tremendous explosion. I found myself really enjoying this minimalist and reality-based version of action scenes.
Steven Soderbergh has crafted a very different action film than audiences are used to here. This most likely hurt the box office in the end, but bravo to the man for attempting to show a truer, and more intense, version of what bodies go through during fights. The plot is immediately forgetful and secondary to the thrill of watching an extremely dedicated and talented female action hero go after the bad guys. Sit back and enjoy the ride.