Director Steven Soderbergh takes his years of experience in mainstream cinema and his undying love for small budget indies and combines both to dole out his 25th film Haywire, a searing, handcrafted action thriller that is a work of bombastic, visceral power. Watching this mesmerizing hybrid you barely realise that your mind is being blown.
Even with its huge star cast of Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas, Haywire is an attention-grabbing showcase for Gina Carano, an MMA fighter who is a more talented, female version of Steven Seagal. Like Seagal she is mostly quiet and unassertive in appearance, but unlike him Carano is gorgeous and does her stunts without wires or trick photography and simply explodes on the screen leaving you gasping for breath. In short, she whoops some serious ass. The fight scenes themselves are rather unexpected – Soderbergh eschews the usual purgative frenzy of quick cutting bloody shaky cam style in favour of long, violent takes. Carano punches, dropkicks, clobbers and gets smashed to walls – it’s all very realistic and some of the fights are so brutal one wonders how many stuntmen she left with real bruises and bloodied cheeks.
The only bane of Haywire is the simplistic plot – the film opens somewhere in the middle and Mallory Kane (Carano) is on the run. We learn through flashbacks that Mallory, a former marine, works for a super secret black ops firm led by Kenneth (Ewan McGregor). She had been sent on a mission to Barcelona with her associate (Channing Tatum) to rescue a whistle-blowing Chinese reporter, and then to Ireland with an international man of mystery (Michael Fassbender) but the operation was botched and she’d been betrayed by someone from Kenneth’s own outfit. Lurking in the shadows are Coblanz (Michael Douglas), a US government official who financed the missions and Europe-based Mexican top official Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas) who seems to have an agenda of his own. It’s basically just a long drawn excuse for Mallory to travel to various countries and pound various men to pulp with her bare hands.
But this isn’t like the Bond movies or the recent Salt, Soderbergh treats Haywire as a finely mixed cocktail of the Oceans and the Bourne films. David Holmes’ soundtrack takes off where the Oceans films left, and Peter Andrews’ eye popping cinematography at the Berlin and Dublin locales makes the clichéd seem new. Soderbergh keeps the camera at a distance and lets you see every punch and kick, as opposed to most filmmakers’ over-edited style where you can't tell what's going on. The climactic sequence of the Berlin operation shifts from color to black and white and back again and is as close to a zen experience as a motion picture can offer. There's no discernible anti-gravity wirework and it makes Carano the most awesome action star to grace the screen since Tony Jaa.
Haywire is a triumph of style over substance. If you’re devoted to saucy action, you’ll emerge from the theater battered and bruised from the experience, and extremely satisfied. Do watch.
(First published in Mid Day)