Thursday, January 19, 2012

Haywire (2012)

Dir. Steven Soderbergh

3.5 out of 5

Former mixed martial arts fighter (and American Gladiator) Gina Carano plays a private security contractor who uses her fists and feet (and thighs) of fury to exact revenge on her betrayers in Haywire, a sleek and straightforward action film from the ever-stylish Steven Soderbergh. After a nearly-botched hostage rescue in Barcelona, Carano's boss (Ewan McGregor) convinces the reluctant agent to take one more job overseas. But when the mission goes awry, Carano must disappear and evade the considerable forces mustered against her, slipping back into the United States and restoring her good name. It's typical off-the-grid intrigue interspersed with fight scenes that aim to mimic a brutal realism not unlike the fisticuffs of the Bourne franchise. Haywire is arguably better at achieving this goal, however - in many respects it's the un-Bourne, refusing to glamorize its violence with jittery editing or a pulse-pounding score. Most of the time it's just two people mercilessly whaling on each other in front of an almost motionless camera.

This is a keenly calculated decision, as Carano is very specifically cast as a blunt instrument first and a thespian second. Doing most - if not all - of her own stunts, she is highly convincing as an icy angel of retribution. Soderbergh goes out of his way to make the rest of film compliment her stark performance, cleverly framing her against the perpetually grey skies of Dublin and the wintry wilderness of upstate New York. It is in the latter location that she encounters civilian Michael Angarano, doing the best he can in a stock role as a bewildered bystander along for the ride. He's partially an audience proxy, as a great chunk of the film is told to him via flashback. But beyond allowing Carano to briefly break from hardass mode and exhibit some mothering tendencies, he lacks a greater purpose in the film. In fact, the supporting cast as a whole is underdeveloped, mostly functioning as a set of human bowling pins for Carano to eventually knock down in expected fashion.

There's a sense that Soderbergh is kind of messing around in
Haywire, trying to prove (for reasons unknown) that he can produce a pleasingly economical action flick. He seems happily beholden to certain conventions of the genre - an epic row between Carano and Michael Fassbender ends up demolishing every single bit of a four-star hotel suite - but at the same time seems a bit bored by them, as the short running time and lack of character depth conceal a much sadder story about a woman obsessively molded into a emotionless human weapon by her paranoid, ex-vet single dad (Bill Paxton). But none of this detracts too much from the film's entertainment value. Haywire is a coolly efficient thriller, if not a terribly complex one, and like Carano it smartly uses the element of surprise to compensate for its lack of brawn. It may not be the biggest or baddest action movie on the block, but woe be to those who underestimate it.

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