Let’s start out with the obvious question: Is ex-MMA star, Gina Carano, worth a damn as an actress? The fact that this is such a prevalent concern in a movie that stars Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas and Bill Paxton would almost seem laughable if it weren’t for the trailer. Yes, the trailer. If you have yet to see said trailer, here it is for your viewing pleasure:
Now that we have gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about a couple things. Let’s start with the aforementioned Gina Carano and the most basic of questions. Is she a good actress?
In a word, no. She is not. That’s not to say she couldn’t be or that she won’t be a good actress, but in this film she is not.
Another question: Does this hurt the quality of the film?
Surprisingly, not in the least. Gina might not show signs of being the next Meryl Streep, and I certainly don’t see a Best Actress nod in her near future, but she does give us the two things you would want from her based on the way she is presented in the trailer. She kicks ass, and she looks good doing it. And when I say she “looks good” I mean this in both the physical and artistic sense.
Steven Soderbergh has been acting as his own cinematographer for quite a while now, and the film world is much better for it. Having first taken the visual reigns in his experimental, yet highly watchable, film Schizopolis in 1996, you could tell he had the skills. But it was with Traffic, his next attempt as a feature DP, where we realized his style was more than just a simple fluke. As was the case in each subsequent venture up to, and including, Haywire. Soderbergh is able to present images that perfectly capture tone and place.
This leads me to my other point of discussion: Expectations.
Having seen the trailer, one would expect that this film would be very much of “The Bourne” school of action/spy thriller with lots of physical action, kinetic pacing and a score to kick ass to. In Haywire this is not the case. Haywire would have more in common with ’70s-style spy and detective films than anything of this generation. The music is subdued and the pacing is a far cry from the intense shaky-cam sequences to which we have become accustomed, and the film is much better for it.
To put it simply, the film is more Bond than Bourne, with one major exception. When Mallory (Gina Carano) unleashes on her attacker, it is gloriously ugly. There are no musical cues to cushion the blows and there is no traditional, beautifully choreographed scenes that you might see in martial arts films. No – Carano brings pain. Lots of it. This is fighting in its purest form and Soderbergh makes you watch, or better yet, hear each blow. Whether it is a windpipe being crushed between Mallory’s thighs or a steady stream of punches to an adversary’s face, you feel brutality.
Does this mean that this is all the film has to offer? Hardly. My description might actually be as misleading as the trailer. Haywire is a slow burn until it isn’t. Haywire is not built on action set pieces. It is built on good drama, highlighted by some intense fight sequences. This leads me back to my earlier discussion about expectations.
If you are expecting a fast-paced balls-to-the-wall action film, this might not be your film. On the other hand, if you are looking for a solid spy thriller that delivers more than a bloody nose, I think Haywire is your ticket.
Counter-Programming Note: If you would like to see a ’70s blaxploitation-inspired Soderbergh joint, watch Out of Sight. It has two of my favorite performances from Albert Brooks and Don Cheadle, not to mention a small reprisal of Michael Keaton’s Ray Nicolette character from Jackie Brown! Yes, he is still kind of a shit.