Payback is a Bitch (Film Review: “Haywire”)

A finely tuned female fighting machine wages a 1-woman war on the secret government contractor who betrayed her. . . and anyone else who stands in her way.

SnapShot Plot

The action scenes and elaborately orchestrated fight sequences in Haywire just may be enough to spike your metabolism into thinking you’ve run, jumped, climbed and shot your way through Barcelona, Dublin, Upstate New York and New Mexico. When instead, like most of the planet, you’re likely sprawled on your couch wondering when this grotesque period of quarantine ennui will finally end.

This Steven Soderbergh high octane action thriller, from 2011, stars the former Mixed Martial Arts superstar-turned-actor Gina Carano as Mallory Kane, a former Marine currently working as a special forces operative for a shady government contractor, headed by Ewan McGregor. The action in this movie grabs you, and quickly. Within the first five minutes, Mallory (a fugitive on the run, somewhere in Upstate New York) is tracked down by Aaron, an agent with whom she just did a daring rescue mission in Barcelona. Aaron (played by a brawny Channing Tatum) has been sent to retrieve Mallory, but she’s not having it. The shocking scene that ensues is enough to make you sit up straight (from your prone position on said couch) and never lie back down for the next hour and a half. Flashback to the Barcelona job and the terse setup meeting between Mallory’s boss, the CIA brass who requested her (played by Michael Douglas), and a marginally shady Spanish broker (played by Antonio Banderas) and you get a good idea of the film’s emphasis on lightly drawn characters in exchange for breathtaking action and tongue-in-cheek tone.

When Kenneth (the contractor played by McGregor, who’s also an ex-lover) practically begs Mallory to do a quick job in Dublin, masking as the wife of an MI6 agent named Paul (played to cool effect by Michael Fassbender) it’s not long before things turn indeed haywire and Mallory realizes that someone has set her up for assassination. She is now on a desperate hunt to destroy her newfound enemy and his allies before she herself is killed. And having a ringside seat to the amazing chases and intricacies of the action proves immeasurably satisfying and strangely invigorating.

Parting Shot

In casting her to literally carry this movie, director Steven Soderbergh (Contagion; Ocean’s Eleven; Traffic; et al) made a bold move, considering the lack of acting chops Gina Carano brought to the table. And even though her performance lacks any real nuance of character, in this setting that doesn’t seem to matter all that much. What Soderbergh realized was the inevitable and meteoric rise of Gina Carano from badass MMA celebrity to bonafide action star. In Haywire, it’s really all about the action, but not in a gratuitous, cheesy way. Although the characters aren’t very three dimensional, they’re not meant to be; they’re more or less stand-ins for the ideas they represent. With his breathtaking command of the long-shot chases (on foot) that seem to go on endlessly, for example (Carano did all her own stunts in the film) and placing his camera in the most unlikely crannies to offer amazingly personal angles, the movie achieves an almost old fashioned sense of realism. Compared to today’s jumpy, choppy editing style that feels like it’s cheating the audience from fully imagining ourselves in the story, Haywire is fun to watch. Combined with a soundtrack by David Holmes that tells the story as much as the visuals themselves (most reminiscent of the clever, semi-comic music in Ocean’s Eleven), Haywire is exactly the kind of easy thrill ride we could use when the news of the world is just too much to absorb right now.

Haywire is presently streaming on Netflix.

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