Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay by Lem Dobbs
Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Michael Angarano, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas
How long is Haywire? 93 minutes.
What is Haywire rated? R for some violence.
Unique Take On A Classic Genre
Steven Soderbergh does not work in just one style of filmmaking. Sex, lies, and videotape, Traffic and Ocean’s Eleven could be mistaken as the work of three very different directors. Only after we identify his very subtle eccentricities relating to characters and dialogue are we able to say, “Yes, that’s why this is a Steven Soderbergh film.”
Last year, the Academy Award-winning director announced that he will soon be taking a sabbatical from filmmaking, possibly never to return. While this was a shocking blow to fans of cinema, in his latest project, Haywire, Soderbergh appears to be taking a tongue-in-cheek bow for his fans’ benefit and creating what might possibly be the most self-referential film ever made. Soderbergh has tackled almost every genre of cinema (except Westerns; he’s deathly afraid of horses) in his exceptional career. With Haywire, for the first time the director takes on the espionage thriller, a world full of double-crosses and conveniently beautiful locales.
Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is a highly trained former Marine who works for a private security contractor that helps governments remove undesirables that are untouchable because of laws or international agreements. Mallory’s boss, Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), sends her and another operative, Aaron (Channing Tatum), to Barcelona to extract a Chinese national who is being held hostage. After they remove him safely, they deliver him to Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas), the man for whom Kenneth is working.
Immediately after the Barcelona job, Kenneth tells Mallory that he needs her to travel to Dublin to act as arm candy in order to help a British operative, Paul (Michael Fassbender), get close to a mark during a lavish party. As the job progresses, Mallory becomes more and more suspicious of Paul and his real motives. Eventually, Mallory realizes that she has been set up for the murder of the Chinese national she helped rescue and must run in order to figure out who framed her and why.
Haywire is a very solid and well-crafted contribution to the spy genre, with a smart and complex script from Lem Dobbs (who worked with Soderbergh on Kafka and The Limey). However, the film’s real fun comes from playing “Spot the Soderbergh Reference.” Filmmakers do not exist in a vacuum; inevitably they are going to borrow from another film or director at some point in their career. Quentin Tarantino is the most unabashed example of this trend and with each new Tarantino film myriad websites jockey to point out which movies he is paying tribute to in his new project.
In Haywire, though, Soderbergh has created an almost Frankenstein-esque amalgamation of his previous films. Watching Haywire is like watching a Soderbergh Greatest Hits compilation. For each of his international locations, Soderbergh manipulates the film’s color palette to differentiate the settings and emotions (Traffic). Many of the scenes, especially those indoors where the outside is visible through a window, are filmed with a soft focus lens giving the scene an ethereal calm (The Informant!). Soderbergh chose a female non-actor (Carano) who is famous in her chosen profession as his protagonist (The Girlfriend Experience) and tailored the part to her strengths. (He even goes so far as to re-create one scene from The Girlfriend Experience.) Most obvious is the music from David Holmes which is almost indistinguishable from the Ocean’s Twelve score, written by David Holmes. The list goes on.
Does this diminish the film’s overall success? Not at all. Soderbergh is clearly having fun behind the camera, throwing everything he can think of at the audience. The most impressive (and refreshing) aspect of the film is how Soderbergh chose to cut the film’s numerous fight sequences. Or, more accurately, chose not to cut them. In films like The Bourne Identity and its imitators, we are inundated with average shot lengths of less than one second, making it difficult to actually see what is happening. In Haywire, Soderbergh essentially sets the camera down and walks away. The fights are therefore so much more brutal to watch as we see every punch, kick, throw and slam with perfect clarity.
Which leads us to Carano. Having already dominated the world of female mixed martial arts (MMA), Carano easily assumes the role of ass-kicking special operative Mallory Kane. Almost like a 21st century “Man With No Name,” Mallory only speaks when absolutely necessary. Carano is surprisingly convincing given she has no acting experience prior to this film. Her cold stare is quite intimidating and she carries herself in a way one would expect from a Marine with years of experience.
Joining Carano is a supporting cast of absolutely fantastic actors. McGregor deserves a great deal of praise for his performance as Mallory’s duplicitous boss and the man every audience member will want to strangle. He is the perfect mixture of charm and smugness. Fassbender, who seems to be in every movie these days, is also terrific. We are never quite sure of Paul’s motives or what he is thinking and Fassbender betrays nothing with his constantly shifting facial expressions and confident smile.
Tatum might be the most enjoyable to watch of all the supporting actors. His scenes with Carano ooze sexual tension and distrust. Also, Tatum is convincing as someone who could compete with Carano in a physical confrontation. Rounding out the already stellar cast is Michael Douglas, the only actor who had worked with Soderbergh previously. As charismatic as ever, Douglas plays Coblenz, one of Kenneth’s employers and the only character whom we question until the very end.
Playing off (and reversing) so many of the espionage thriller conventions, Haywire is pure fun from beginning to end and a selfless gift from Soderbergh to his fans.
Matthew Newlin lives in St. Louis, Missouri and has been a film critic for over six years. He has written for numerous online media outlets, including “Playback:STL” and “The Weissman Report.” He holds a Master’s of Education in Higher Education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and is an Assistant Director of Financial Aid. A lifelong student of cinema, his passion for film was inherited from his father who never said “No, you can’t watch that.”