January 19, 2014

Haywire (2011)

Make Sure to Check Out the Steven Soderbergh Blogathon Over at Seetimaar


Well this is unprecedented! I finally getting around to reviewing a Bill Paxton flick on The Paxton Configuration! And Haywire is, secretly, all about Bill Paxton. I've already written the fanfic … er … screenplay in which Paxton's character of John Kane was really a super spy who found Haywire's main character Mallory Kane abandoned in a poppy field in Vietnam while he was undercover, infiltrating a joint CIA-Viet Cong stronghold. He sets off a nuke and everything, It's great. Paxton.

Okay. Well, maybe Haywire isn't about Paxton at all. Damn it. But it is, indeed, about a secret agent, of sorts, in Mallory Kane. Steven Soderbergh, once again treading unfamiliar ground in terms of plot and setting, goes further against the grain by casting MMA fighter (and super duper rookie actor) Gina Carano as our hero Mallory, an extraction specialist (ex-marine, pretty much a kill machine) who ends up being betrayed by a handful of parties and is marked for death.

Though Soderbergh does have questionable taste in casting choices at times (his continued obsession with Channing 'Less Dimensional Than Particle Board' Tatum still amazes me; dour sourpuss Rooney Mara, etc.), Soderbergh has one objective in this stylish but to-the-point action pic: have Carano fascinate your eyes with her unique and fresh looks and her no-nonsense fight moves.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith tried to make a man and woman fighting kind of a goofy, 'wow, isn't this different?' set piece … Haywire makes it a brutal, no fluff, every day event for Mallory Kane. In fact, the film opens with a scene in which Mallory is unexpectedly attacked, briefly vulnerable, and beaten severely by an acquaintance (played by Channing Tatum). She quickly recovers and lays a beat down of her own … but for a moment there, it seems like the 'stronger' man is going to easily take out the 'weaker' woman. And when Mallory is done breaking Tatum's arm in pieces, a precedent is set. A man will not hesitate hitting this woman … but this woman will not hesitate taking the hit and coming back twice as hard. Finally, women get a hero who is not attached to any trope!

Carano is best suited keeping away from dialogue … she comes off as stilted at best, robotic at worst … but Soderbergh's throwback approach to the film (a mixture of older Cold War espionage thrillers brought back to popularity with the Bourne films and something knocking on the door of a 007 film) requires little actual to be said. His objective is to show what happens when people who can kill each other turn against each other. Unlike the more grandiose action films we see, this film tries to make it blue-collar, quick, fierce and sort of uncomfortable. I mean, in the end, when is it fun to actually see people die outside of a popcorn flick that doesn't take death seriously?

Carano's credentials as a thespian aren't really a problem no matter what because Soderbergh taps into his Rolodex and grabs a bunch of his buddies to come hang out (the fact that Brad Pitt and George Clooney don't make a cameo is a bit of a shock). Michael Douglas appears as a vague government official. Antonio Banderas gets to live up to the stereotype of his voice by speaking as if he is encased in shadows as a foreign shadow conspiracist. Ewan McGregor puts on the smarm as Mallory's boss-cum-enemy. A pre-Shame/Prometheus Michael Fassbender shows up as a greasy fellow operative who has to work with Mallory. Channing Tatum is a former associate of Mallory's while the lovable, hammable Bill Paxton plays Mallory's dad.

There really isn't a whole lot to Haywire despite the beautiful cinematography, the great supporting cast and some well done (though oddly edited) fight choreography. The film certainly has style but I don't think it really has anything to say. So despite being entertaining, the movie does have an 'empty' feeling to it. You watch it, you enjoy the goings-on, you praise Paxton for being Paxton, but then you move on.

But it isn't written somewhere that every film has to be a dramatic masterpiece and there is more to movies than just dialogue written on a page. Blu-Ray players and high definition computer monitors will appreciate the eye candy on display and Haywire's refreshing female lead and the sort of by-the-numbers but certainly not dumb storyline will make the viewing experience worthwhile.

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