Thursday, June 28, 2012

Overlooked Gems #37: Haywire

Grade: 79 (B+)

Over the course of a nearly twenty-five year career, Steven Soderbergh has established himself as perhaps the most intellectually curious filmmaker of his generation. Few directors mix it up as much as Soderbergh: his films include a probing look at modern sexuality (Sex, Lies, and Videotape), a stunningly sexy crime-drama/comedy (Out of Sight), a sweeping epic on the War on Drugs (Traffic), a zany comedy about a corporate whistleblower (The Informant!), a crackerjack heist movie (Ocean’s Eleven), a four-hour long two-part biopic (Che), and a Dadaist experiment (Schizopolis). Few directors would tackle such a diverse array of genres, and few would be able to pull each off with equal aplomb. Soderbergh’s male-stripper movie Magic Mike looks to be a sleeper hit of the summer, but his other 2012 film, the action-revenge thriller Haywire, was a commercial dud. It’s a shame: Haywire is easily one of the best action films in recent memory, and another creative triumph for a great director.

Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) works for a company that handles “operations”: namely, international episodes of intrigue and danger. The firm is run by her ex-boyfriend Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), is bankrolled by American government agent Coblenz (Michael Douglas) and also works with Coblenz and Kenneth’s associate Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas). But when another agent, Paul (Michael Fassbender), tries to kill her, Mallory realizes she’s been set up, and now Kenneth and fellow agent Aaron (Channing Tatum) are after her. But Mallory doesn’t take no shit from nobody, and she goes about exacting her revenge.

Much was made of the fact that Carano had limited acting experience and is a mixed-martial arts star, but Soderbergh has proved himself in the past a master at getting strong work out of actors with limited range (Andie MacDowell, Jennifer Lopez) or dubious experience (he cast porn star Sasha Grey as a lead in The Girlfriend Experience). No one’s going to ask to see Carano play someone hyper-literate anytime soon, but she’s more than effective as a terse, steely badass whose punches could rattle your brain. More important is the authenticity to all of the fight scenes: the fact that Carano can really do all of this crazy stuff is clear. Besides, Soderbergh has assembled a terrific supporting cast, from antagonists Fassbender, MacGregor and Tatum to Bill Paxton as Mallory’s father, the only man she trusts.

This is no average thriller, however. A convert to digital filmmaking in recent years, Soderbergh knows how to make digital look great better just about any other modern filmmaker (only David Fincher rivals him). Haywire looks fantastic, with its use of orange hues and bright light, and Soderbergh utilizes the same fantastic elliptical editing style he put to great use in his 1999 crime masterpiece The Limey. The film doesn’t ultimately have the same emotional resonance as The Limey, nor does the plot ultimately cohere much, but it hardly matters. Each succeeding action scene tops the last for pure bone-crunching intensity, and while David Holmes provides another fantastic score (he’s previously worked with Soderbergh on Out of Sight and Ocean’s Eleven), Soderbergh wisely tunes it out for most of the action scenes. When Carano fights, you’d best pay attention.

2 comments:

  1. I really need to see this thing. I was so psyched to see it in theaters, but it was right after I blew all my cash on Oscarbaition flicks.

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  2. I've just installed iStripper, and now I enjoy having the sexiest virtual strippers on my desktop.

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