Haywire (2011) Review

A film that strips away any narrative pretense and bloat, favoring classical and exquisitely shot and cut fight sequences with a terse screenplay (written by Soderbergh frenemy Lem Dobbs) that only divulges exactly what you need to know and nothing more. Gina Carano, a former MMA star, isn’t a particularly expressive or emotive screen presence, but what she possibly lacks in charisma she more than makes up for with her intense physicality and grace-under-pressure-confidence during the film’s numerous high-throttle action sequences. Her hotel room blow-out with a game Michael Fassbender is one of the single best fight sequences in any movie. Insanely aggressive, visceral, dangerous, and a hoot to watch, the two of them slam each other around a hotel suite, crashing into tables and mirrors and walls, trading repeated blows, with a static, observing camera capturing each potentially lethal kick and punch with hard-core efficiency.

Carano is Mallory Kane, a black-ops soldier who’s tasked with doing a mysterious job by some nefarious government officials (Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum in one very nasty sequence) who are looking to use her as bait in a much larger plan of action. She doesn’t realize at first that she’s being set up, but when he makes heads of the situation, she’s off on the run, trying to put the pieces together with the help of a stranger (Michael Angarano) and her Tom Clancy-esque father, perfectly underplayed by Bill Paxton. As usual, Soderbergh acts as his own cameraman and editor (Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard POWER), and the film carries a fleet, slick yet gritty, totally engrossing style that beautifully serves the various action set-pieces and cynical dialogue exchanges.

David Holmes’ score is jaunty, jazzy, and not the usual for this sort of genre fare; it’s one of my favorite recent scores to any film, a total play-thru on CD, riffing on Bond in some spots, and filled with tons of inspired 60’s and 70’s flair. As he did in The Informant! and on his TV show The Knick, Soderbergh has opted for a unique use of nontraditional music in Haywire, which gave the entire film a bracing jolt of originality when compared to other genre efforts. And then there’s the final shot and line of dialogue – I’m not sure if I’ve ever loved two seconds of an action movie more than those moments. I can remember some people in my first theatrical screening getting very annoyed by how Haywire finished. Not me. The brevity of the entire piece is what I love so much, and the fatally sharp closing was a perfect way to fade to black.

Review by Nick Clement