Haywire (2011)

Soderbergh flaunts his technical ability in this rather mainstream endeavor, but style over substance makes the film far from the best of its genre. 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review #699

Dir. Steven Soderbergh
2011 | USA/Ireland | Action/Thriller | 93 mins | 2.39:1 | English & Spanish

PG13 (passed clean) for some violence

Cast: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas
Plot: A last-minute mission in Dublin turns deadly for stunning secret operative Mallory Kane when she realizes she’s been betrayed — and that her own life is no longer safe. Now, to outwit her enemies, she’ll simply have to outlast them.
Awards: –
Source: Relativity Media

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Betrayal; Spywork
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: In Theatres
First Published: 24 Jan 2012
Spoilers: No

Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh seems to be on a quest to complete as many films as it is physically possible before he retires to a more leisurely passion which is painting.  After the mixed reception towards Contagion (2011), Soderbergh returns to the big screen with another relatively mainstream effort.

The end result is similarly lukewarm, but it is generally a slightly better film than the star-studded feature about the societal chaos caused by a deadly strain of virus.  His latest film, Haywire, has the fingerprints of the acclaimed director, but it falls short of being an excellent contemporary example of an action film.

Although its title suggests so, there is actually nothing chaotic about Haywire.  In fact, it is a story of a black ops soldier who is betrayed and then hunted down by other agents after a botched mission to rescue a kidnapped Chinese journalist.

The blame is pinned on her, but even with all the pressure, she maintains an extraordinary sense of calmness (and coolness) as she attempts to seek the truth, battling her way through armed men with her incredible mixed martial arts skills.  Everything is planned and strategised, hence chaos is not her middle name, even as she wreaks havoc on her enemies.

“Oh, you shouldn’t think of her as being a woman.  No, that would be a mistake.” 

Soderbergh is a technically astute director (and cinematographer).  Haywire, like almost every other film he has made, is well-crafted, with a strong emphasis on light and shadow.  In a scene in a hangar, Michael Douglas and Gina Carano’s characters have a conversation. Soderbergh shoots them in silhouette in bright light, and in the reverse shot, we see them clearly in a darker background. 

Haywire is also well-edited, and because two-thirds of the film is told in flashback intercut with scenes of real-time, the film remains engaging to some extent.  All these to a mesmerising electro-jazz score that accompanies the film.

The action sequences in Haywire are something that we do not usually see in a mainstream genre film.  We have a female lead, trained in mixed martial arts (in real and reel life), trying to outwit her aggressors with her lethal bare hands and legs.  The action is filmed as it is, with few cuts.  This allows viewers to appreciate the artistry of the fight sequences.

However, the main flaw of the film lies in the character development of its lead.  Carano’s performance is adequate but not particularly excellent, and her character’s motivations are not succinctly communicated to the viewers.

Haywire is a film of moments, rather than a film of experiences.  It is heartening to see Soderbergh trying out a pure action genre, yet bringing a sense of indie credibility to the project.  However, as far as it goes, the film is not exactly a memorable one.  

Grade: B-



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