Friday, February 3, 2012

Film Review: Haywire

The first and last words spoken in Steven Soderbergh's new action thriller are the same word - shit.  And it is a world of shit that our intrepid kick-ass heroine is put into by planned circumstance, and it is a world of shit that she in turns puts her enemies into.  In much the same way that Quentin Tarantino brilliantly cast Zoe Bell as herself in Death Proof, never having to cut or turn the camera away or replace her with a stunt double (that was really Bell on the hood of that speeding Dodge Challenger), Soderbergh has placed mixed martial arts champion and former American Gladiator Gina Carano front and center in his new rough and tumble action thriller, Haywire.  And yes, that is really Carano leaping tall buildings, running up walls and generally kicking major league ass, from Channing Tatum to Michael Fassbender to Ewan MacGregor.  No need for a body double here.  She would probably only kick their asses too.

Taking the recent mainstream penchant for kick-ass women who highlight a whole new breed of feminist action flicks that were born from Ripley and the Alien franchise (Angelina Jolie in Salt, not to mention the comatose Tomb Raider series, Saoirse Ronan in Hanna, Kate Beckinsale in the Underworld series, even Kick-Ass itself with tween Hit-Girl Chlöe Moretz), Soderbergh creates a new piece for the sub-genre and does it in a way that can only be described as, Soderberghian.   The director does not give us the outlandish set pieces that usually, for better or for worse, come with the moniker of action movie.  We do not get the Michael Bay-like blowing ups and knocking downs.  We do not get the tired catchphrases of old (a thing that recalls some of the best of the genre but much of the worst as well).   We do not get the stupidity of out of proportion posturing so linked to the genre. What we do get is a solid action movie that never goes for the cheap thrill so inherent in the genre.  As I said, what we get is Steven Soderbergh's idea of an action movie.

With a slow, methodical cadence that may irritate the average moviegoer who expects explosions and impossible car chases every few minutes, Haywire is a twisting turning story of deceit and double-crossing in the world of gun-for-hire espionage.  Escaping the genre conventions, much in the same way the director did in films like Out of Sight and The Limey, Haywire is a straight forward, square-jawed punch in the face.  With muscled knock-out (and I mean that in both connotations of course) Carano as the centerpiece for his action thriller, Soderbergh hands us a very realistically stylized work of cinema.  Behind his beloved Red camera, and giving the fight sequences a reality all their own (the director cuts any and all music with each first punch thrown, so we hear nothing but the grunting, crushing, bone-breaking sounds of the fight), and since we are not dealing with a trained actress, the success of Soderbergh's film relies almost entirely on the believability of Carano's hired muscle.  Much like porn icon Sasha Grey being cast in Soderbergh's oft-maligned but quite cunning The Girlfriend Experience, Carano, not a great actress by any stretch (luckily she doesn't need to be) comes through with flying colours - and in turn, so does Soderbergh's movie.

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