Steven Soderbergh | 89 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA & Ireland / English | 15 / R
Like ponderous arthouse fare, but also action-thrillers? Disappointed that these two passions must always be sated independently? Well recent retiree (we’ll see how long that lasts) Steven Soderbergh has come to your rescue.
Haywire gradually reveals itself to be about Mallory Kane, a field agent for a private company contracted by the US government to do… things. Things that presumably need deniability. After a mission goes oddly, her next job reveals a surprising connection, and suddenly Kane finds herself on the run from a lot of men who want to kill her.
It’s difficult to know exactly what kind of film Soderbergh thought he was making here — it really does fall between the two stools of arty-indie and action-thriller. His directorial style hews towards the former, with his choice of shots, cutting speed, the roughness of the cinematography, the intricacy and opaqueness of the story… It requires you to keep up and pay attention; to piece together plot points retrospectively; to decide what to process and what to ignore (a lengthy conversation about budget and payment seems to fall by the wayside in irrelevance).
But then the lead isn’t even an actress, but former MMA fighter Gina Carano, presumably cast because she can fight rather than for her acting ability. That’s not a criticism, however — she may not be on a footing to contest an Oscar any time soon, but Carano is more than fine to be an action movie lead. Her undoubted combat skills, meanwhile, lend the fights a bone-crunching realism that is likely to be welcomed by many. They’re very much a showcase for her ability too, because any sense of an equally-matched duel is hampered by pitting her against men who are actually just actors.
That supporting cast (all male, bar a couple of extras) again straddles the line between blockbuster and indie: Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum. These are largely actors who know what they’re doing on both sides of the fence, which I imagine works to the story’s benefit, if not to the action sequences. I won’t tell you which of those men Carano comes to blows with (three out of the six), but at least one of them has to rely on a bit of choppy editing and silhouettes to sell the fact it’s even close to a plausible brawl.
I expect there’s an interesting feminist reading to be had out of the film. Soderbergh has cast someone who can genuinely handle herself against a variety of men who, at best, can only do so a bit. She runs rings around them, and sundry nameless police officers too; and, as noted, she’s the only female in the main cast. I’ll leave such analysis to more dedicated observers than I, but I expect Soderbergh had some commentary in mind.
Despite my assertion that this might appeal to two groups one might think are fundamentally opposed, it’s more likely Haywire will fail to please either. It’s too engrossed in a fiddly espionage plot to please indie fans looking for deep characterisation or worldly insight, but too fiddly and artily realised to please the broader sweep of thriller fans. That said, the latter withstood Paul Greengrass’ shakey-cam and jumpy cutting on the Bourne sequels, and this isn’t that extreme; indeed, Soderbergh’s use of wide angles and long takes for the fights is most pleasing.
Personally, I thought it was an interesting, leftfield, worthwhile addition to the genre. That genre being the action-thriller, which is where, in spite of everything, the film really resides.