Bravo, Soderbergh. Too often do action directors feel compelled to get in the middle of the mayhem and jiggle the camera around in a half-assed attempt to put the audience “in the action.”
The result is almost always muddy, confused and ultimately boring. Soderbergh didn’t have a straight-up action film to his name until now, but he does what all good action directors do: get the Hell out of the car and PUSH.
This rule especially applies when you have martial arts as your hook like in “Haywire.” Great directors of kung-fu movies like Chang Cheh and Lau Kar-leung were always content to let their performers do the heavy lifting, after all, we’re here to see them whip some ass, it’s nice if you can witness them actually doing it without a lot of fancy editing and seizure-prone camera operators spoiling the fun. Because Soderbergh understands this, “Haywire” is a refreshing genre experience.
“Haywire” acts as a starring vehicle for accomplished MMA fighter Gina Carano, whose potent physical prowess makes her presence alone in an action scene a special effect. The plot is a fairly standard spy-yarn. Carano plays an agent named Mallory Kane, who works for a freelance firm that takes on the dirty work that their government clients don’t want to be associated with if things were to go bad.
After handling a seemingly standard hostage situation in Barcelona, she finds herself paired up with a British agent named Paul (Michael Fassbender) for the genre-staple “one last job” given by her boss and ex-lover, Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), before she strikes out to work for herself. As per usual, things aren’t what they seem, and soon Mallory finds herself on the run; but she’s not sure why, something she aims to unravel.
The pulpy plot is one the genre-savvy have seen before, but the supporting cast helps elevates the material, and the score by David Holmes gives it a ’60s spy-movie flavor without ever resorting to going full-on throwback. Though I praised Soderbergh’s approach in the intro to this review, his tendencies as an artsy American director threaten to overwhelm the action and intrigue early on, before he throws all his fancypants technique out the window in order to let Carano do her thing. And boy does she bring it whenever she needs to bust out a severe beat-down.
Her line delivery certainly needs some work, and it’s more noticeable when she’s bouncing off her heavyweight co-stars. But what Carano lacks in delivery, she makes up for in screen presence, and her impressive physicality which doesn’t require the aid wires or special effects makes her a rare and welcome commodity in American genre movies. If she doesn’t show up in the inevitable “Expendables 3,” Sly’s doing it wrong.
The Blu-ray contains a featurette on Carano’s journey from the world of MMA to movies, and how seeing her fight inspired Soderbergh to make this film. There’s another featurette with interviews with all the male cast members, but they’re charismatic butts for Carano’s kicking. The lack of a commentary track is disappointing, considering Soderbergh has done them so well in the past for films like “The Limey” (his track with John Boorman on the “Point Blank” DVD is also well worth a listen for any fan of that film). It would’ve been neat to hear him sit down with Carano, so it feels like a missed opportunity. Still, the film is strong enough to warrant a purchase for any action movie buff. It’ll certainly be sitting on my shelf.
Other Noteworthy Releases
George Harrison – Living In The Material World: Scorsese has done the rock doc brilliantly in the past, examining Bob Dylan in “No Direction Home” and chronicling The Band’s “farewell concert” in “The Last Waltz” (“Shine a Light” looked a bit on the insufferable side. I never bothered to find out if I was right). Here Scorsese explores George Harrison, who is, in my opinion, the most talented of The Beatles (his record “All Things Must Pass” smokes any of the solo work by Lennon or McCartney). I look forward to checking it out.
Joyful Noise: The description on Amazon for this Queen Latifah/Dolly Parton film is as follows: “Joyful Noise” tells the story of an unlikely partnership between two strong-minded women who are forced to work together to save a small town Gospel Choir after budget cuts threaten to shut them down. Music is a very important component to the story.” Here I was thinking a movie called “Joyful Noise” starring Dolly Parton would have absolutely nothing to do with music at all.
New Year’s Eve: Garry Marshall has a fixation with holiday-themed movies, except he makes them into stale ensemble pieces instead of sleazy slasher films, which would actually be preferable.
Men in Black: A fun, witty sci-fi comedy that boasted insane action and fun performances. In hindsight, it should’ve been a one-off.
Available on Blu-ray
Men in Black II: A sequel so dull it should have killed the franchise. But it made tons of money, so here comes “Men in Black III,” as well as this stupid movie on Blu-ray.
Available on Blu-ray
W.E.: A movie directed by Madonna is considered to be one of the worst movies of last year? You don’t say.
Bird of Paradise: A King Vidor film produced by David O. Selznick, starring Joel McCrea. This Kino release is the only authorized edition from Selznick’s estate, so it should be a treat to check out.
The Tim Burton Collection: This Amazon exclusive Blu-ray set contains “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure,” “Beetlejuice,” “Batman,” “Batman Returns,” “Mars Attacks!,” “The Corpse Bride” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
Available on Blu-ray
This post originally appeared over at Parcbench