Over the past few months director Steven Soderbergh has made a series of bold statements regarding his future. In 2011 he announced and retracted his imminent retirement – a retirement that was to be replaced with painting – and just last week he followed up with the news that ‘serious’ movies are now off his agenda. With Haywire being his second film since November’s Contagion and his ‘to direct’ list including the upcoming Magic Mike and the much mooted Liberace biopic, it’s safe to say Soderbergh may be exaggerating his eternal hibernation. As for only making ‘fun’ films, if Haywire is a gauntlet tossed it’d take a strong body to argue against his potential new direction.
In a roadside diner in the middle of nowhere Mallory sits down for a coffee. Within moments a man enters and, against his better judgement, orders her to come with him. A spilt coffee, some epic violence and a broken arm later (his) Mallory is out of the café, taking with her a teenager who helped her win the tussle. She proceeds to tell the youngster a tale of espionage, betrayal and revenge.
If you skipped the opening preamble and found yourself drugged and placed in your local mutliplex you’ll recognise Haywire as a Soderbergh film from frame two. The David Holmes score, the trademark editing, the lengthy establishing shots of European locales that if subtracted would cut the already sprightly run time of an hour and a half hour to somewhere around TV show length. It’s all very SS.
As familiar as these touches are they’re precisely what makes Haywire stand out as more than just your simple ‘Solo heroine against numerous bad guys’ flick fashionable yet forgettable of late; Salt, Columbiana we’re looking at you. What Haywire lacks in cohesion or pace -she walks, she runs, she hides, she fights- it more than makes up for in faces. “Look it’s Michael Douglas! Look it’s Fasswang! Look it’s Private Hudson! Look it’s the young William Miller from Almost Famous. My hasn’t he grown since he was “11!””.
Atop of this ‘supporting’ cast pyramid sits Ewan McGregor, the lynchpin of the nefarious dealings and the naughtiest man named Kenneth to ever grace the silver screen. Bar last year’s Beginners, it’s been a long time since the biggest thespian-Scot since Sir Sean really threw out a notable performance and Haywire is no exception. It’s not really Ewan’s fault as, with every male onscreen, he’s playing second fiddle to the impressively brutal newcomer Gina Carano.
Having mined solid performances out of non-actors before (porn star Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience, himself in Schizopolis) Soderbergh strikes silver again with the Mixed Martial Artist Carano. It’s not a star-making performance, in fact it’s difficult to envision her in anything apart from these kick ass heroine roles, but considering she carries the entire film – her first – on her (clearly) strong and broad shoulders the performance is quite a feat.
She may not match major actresses for emoting, and after all she isn’t asked to, but there are few that could make the crunch of bone and sinew as believable as she does.
A more than decent alternate to the award yearning fare on offer at this time of year. It may not sit proudly on the shelf alongside similar spies seeking satisfaction – Bourne and Bond – and she may miss the grace and likeability of those other recent avenging angels, Lisbeth and The Bride, but Haywire and Carano’s Mallory will certainly keep your muscles flexed and endorphins rushing on a cold, wet January night.