We review Haywire – A mostly wooden disappointment

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It’s taken almost 7 months for espionage actioner Haywire to reach South African shores. Released during the post-festive season glut of thrillers and Nicolas Cage throwaways, Haywire’s distinguishing feature is the fact that it centres on an ass-kicking female character, and stars Mixed Martial Arts fighter Gina Carano. And while this casting means the film delivers on its promise of a physically credible action heroine, director Steven Soderbergh’s latest effort disappoints in other areas. Tonally flat and plotted by numbers, Haywire feels as wooden as its leading lady.

On a base level, Haywire is just fine. The storyline is appreciably straightforward, with none of the last-minute twists we’ve come to expect of its genre… even if the film does adopt a contrived flashback format to introduce our protagonist and her motivations. In short, Mallory Kane (Carano) is a former-marine-turned-freelance-operative, chiefly working for Ewan McGregor’s Kenneth, who in turn accepts outsourced jobs from government agencies. When an apparently routine assignment turns out to be a trap, Mallory embarks on a globe-trotting revenge quest, all the while outrunning the authorities and outfighting her former colleagues (including Channing Tatum). Adding further big name heft to the cast, meanwhile, are Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender and Michael Douglas.

I’ve heard Haywire referred to as Soderbergh’s experiment with conventions of the action espionage genre; that the film is the director’s response to the “gritty” likes of the Bourne series and Daniel Craig’s Bond movies. And certainly, Haywire feels like it comes from a filmmaker at play. Sometimes Soderbergh hits the nail on the head with his stylist deviations, and sometimes it feels like he’s being different for difference sake, resulting in a strong sense of oddity.

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A definite positive in Haywire? The action scenes. Soderbergh completely ignores the shaky cinematography and frantic editing that audiences have come to expect from contemporary action-thrillers as an attempt to visually convey an adrenalin spike. Whether it is car chases or one-on-one combat, in Haywire we’re actually allowed to watch the action take place in real-time, and in a coherent form.

Long unbroken shots of Mallory running and scrambling across rooftops provide a good indication of her strength and stamina. And the fight scenes put Carano’s real-life MMA skills to great use: mixing up the standard punching and kicking with the introduction of armbars, back attacks and triangle chokes.

More importantly, even if Mallory has the strange tendency to always take the first hit before retaliating with her A-game, you believe that she could really emerge victorious during a struggle with a bigger, stronger male opponent. The same can’t necessarily be said for bony A-list actresses like Angelina Jolie, who occasionally wander into action heroine territory.

Carano pulls off the physicality demanded of her, but otherwise isn’t a particularly good actress in her first starring role. She demonstrates a few sparks of warmth but is otherwise stiff in terms of facial expression and speaking voice. The same stiffness has affected the film as a whole. With little variation in tone, and little character introduction or development, Haywire is an often awkward watch. The audience sits aloof, uninvested in what’s happening onscreen. And then there’s David Holmes’s unmodulating score – which sounds like a marriage of Death Wish and spaghetti western by way of 70s blaxpoitation flicks – which makes for a jarring pairing with the visuals.

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At just over 90 minutes, the credits roll on Haywire and you find yourself asking “Is that it?” It’s not that the movie doesn’t have its moments of bone-crunching satisfaction, but they’re scattered. And ultimately it seems more fitting to call the film short, stolid and strange, than sweet and short.

Last Updated: August 5, 2012

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