Sunday, January 22, 2012

Haywire - Theatrical Review


Release Date: January 20, 2012

What happens when you take an inventive and gifted storyteller like Steven Soderbergh and combine your everyday A typical spy/espionage thriller storyline? You get Haywire.

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 30 at the Block in Orange
Time: 12:01 am January 20, 2012
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 1 hr 33 min
Studio: Universal

Loves: This cast...I mean holy crap!
Likes: Steven Soderbergh, action/spy/thrillers
Neutral: The "art house" effect (aka Steven Soderbergh movies)
Hates: Nothing really
Fact: Steven Soderbergh is NOT retiring from filmmaking

Steven Soderbergh seems to have made it his personal mission to structure his films around a specific person and their talents. Or you could look at it another way, he may simply be looking for the best fit for a film he wants to make. Whatever his methods or reasons I applaud him either way for his casting choices which always seem wrong or a bad gamble in theory but always feel right in the finished product. Regardless of your like or dislike for his film The Girlfriend Experience, one cannot deny how perfect former adult film actress Sasha Grey was for the part (and how surprisingly good she was). With Haywire he appears to be attempting the same trick by filling the lead role with someone that is a seemingly perfect fit for an action role. While I never found The Girlfriend Experience to be anything more than a giant screen test for Sasha Grey, I think Haywire turned out much better and I believe much of that credit goes to its star Gina Carano.

Mallory (Gina Carano) isn't exactly what you would call a government operative. She may do the odd job for certain political stooges here and there but she remains employed by a private firm run by a man named Kenneth (Ewan McGregor). Mallory is Kenneth's number one agent and for his latest job she is requested by name by a high up government lackey named Coblenz (Michael Douglas) and his colleague Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas) for a covert operation over seas. Things of course don't go exactly as planned (or do they?) and soon Mallory finds herself on the run from the law. She must find out who or what is responsible and bring the truth out before she is hunted down and killed.

Mallory isn't playing around.

Steven Soderbergh does two types of movies, the art house film and what some would call the Hollywood cash grab. Arguably even his more high profile films (i.e. the cash grabs) have that independent vibe to them. Watching something like Ocean's Eleven or Out of Sight you see this in practice, there may not be much under the hood but they are certainly entertaining. But we usually look past the lack of substance because of how he presents these films to us. It's surprising to think just how dialog driven most of his more mainstream films actually are which is where those indie sensibilities shine through the most. What he is giving us is some of the very few instances where the independent film world crosses paths with the big Hollywood event film world and that is exactly what Haywire felt like to me as I watched it. We are literally getting the best of both worlds here.

The reason I bring any of this up is because I believe there are going to be a lot of people that see this that will feel like this isn't what they signed up for. The film is being heavily marketed as some sort of female Bourne Identity knockoff (which actually isn't too far from the truth) but I can't help but feel as though many theater goers this weekend will come away from Haywire feeling slightly cheated out of that thrill-a-minute style many other films from the same genre provide. My only hope is that we do not see a repeat of what happened last year when Drive was released and everyone was upset that it wasn't the stupid action movie they were expecting. Haywire is not a typical spy/thriller movie and with Soderbergh at the helm I wasn't expecting one, but I fear not everyone else will see it that way.

The men behind the mission.

Now none of that is meant to say there is no action in Haywire because that couldn't be further from the truth. Hidden within this somewhat unconventional shell of generic, albeit well made, thriller material are some of the best hand to hand combat action scenes you are likely to see come from any movie made this side of the Pacific. This is where the genius of bringing on someone like Gina Carano to fill the lead role comes into play because Soderbergh and his stunt/action choreographers use her abilities to their fullest. While I found it somewhat out of place at times that an agent like her would know so many MMA moves it never detracted from the pure adrenaline rush those fight sequences provided.

Every single time we see Mallory prepare for some ass kicking (and she kicks a lot of ass) it is always punctuated by some intense and extremely raw beat downs. The film most definitely plays to the strengths of its star because when she isn't busy choking someone out she is often on the run which leads to some lengthy cat and mouse foot chases. Mallory doesn't evade her pursuers by just simply turning a corner and they are gone, she has to scale buildings, jump from roof top to roof top and even run over the tops of cars without a hesitation. We have all see this stuff before for sure but what makes it work is that we can tell Carano actually did everything herself. These aren't Jackie Chan caliber stunts she is doing but they are impressive never the less and only help sell the action even more. When she falls from that roof top it hurts and we can tell.

Kenneth isn't really being up front with Mallory.

By bringing Gina Carano on to be the lead in a film where she would be surrounded by a gaggle of star power (more on them in minute) was a calculated risk but one I think paid off in the end. Her natural physicality shines through every time she is asked to pummel some poor idiot into the ground. But then again that was never really an issue though. The issue was whether or not Carano could actually do the acting part of the gig. Steven Soderbergh seems to have a knack for finding not only the right person for the job but also a person who is credible in the acting department. I mean, who the hell knew that when he hired a pornstar for The Girlfriend Experience that she would not only pull off being the lead in a dramatic film but would prove many skeptics (myself included) wrong by giving a solid performance?

The adept director has done it again with Haywire. Gina Carano proves herself to be more than capable of handling the task and she does it all with a great sense of ease and charm. Maybe it is my cynical nature but I kept waiting for that moment where she would slip up, that moment when she would be asked to do something she just couldn't pull off. But that never happened, she was game for everything the film asked of her and never faltered. However it must be noted that she really wasn't asked to do a whole lot either. Let's face it, all she really needed to do was look serious, smile once in a while and kick ass when the opportunity arose. I don't point this out to knock her for it but just to put what she did here into a better perspective. She did fine in the role but I don't think this will lead into any sort of meaningful acting career down the road unfortunately.

They really shouldn't mess with Mallory's dad.

The big magic trick she (and Soderbergh) pulled off though was having her not look like a complete amateur when on screen with some of these big league actors Soderbergh assembled here. I couldn't help but feel as if Soderbergh called in a lot of favors to get some of these names into this movie. You got Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton, Michael Fassbender and to a very lesser extent Channing Tatum. I don't care what anyone thinks, that is a fantastic cast. Now its not that I didn't think these guys wouldn't have come-a-calling on their own accord (many of them have worked with the director in the past) its just that none of them really did anything very important. At least not important enough to warrant their interest in such paltry roles. They all played characters that would normally be filled by up and coming actors looking to make a name for themselves. You have Douglas playing a politician type who attends a couple meetings, Paxton who plays Mallory's dad and is in one scene only, Banderas who is absent for the majority of the film expect for the beginning and the very end and Fassbender who has a little more to do than the others but still feels very underutilized. McGregor is the only one that has what I would call an actual fully dimensional character.

I want to explain that this is not a criticism, not at all. I am just astounded at how Soderbergh was able to get all these guys to come on and basically do what amounts to extended cameos. The fact that Carano was able to hold her own while in a movie filled with all those guys is quite an accomplishment that I don't think many legitimate actors could pull off. Actually the only actor in the entire film that felt outclassed is Channing Tatum surprisingly. I'm not sure if it was the way the character was written or that he never really got to do much but for someone I was supposed to believe was an expert agent he always just felt like a gigantic marshmallow to me. About the only positive thing I can say about him is how he handles his final scene near the end of the film where he actually gave one of the better singular acting moments of his career. He wasn't bad per say he just didn't have the gravitas to pull off the bit part like all those other powerful actors could.

Mallory does a lot of running.

Haywire is for all intents and purposes your generic spy/thriller action movie but that isn't nearly as bad as it sounds. It may be comprised of all the cliches in the book (sold out agent goes looking for revenge, corrupt officials, jobs going wrong, yada yada yada) that accompany such a genre film but as is often the case with anything Steven Soderbergh does he finds a way to make it all feel fresh somehow. It features a more than competent debut performance from Gina Carano as its star, is filled to the brim with talented triple A star power where ever you look, has some well executed action scenes that will stick with you and it never overstays its welcome by coming in at a brisk ninety minutes. I never go the feeling that Soderbergh was looking to reinvent the wheel here, he simply wanted to put his own unique spin on a genre that has been done to death. There are certainly better films that represent the genre Haywire is part of but I think it accomplishes what it set out to do which was to provide a starring vehicle that showcased the many talents of Gina Carano and by proving once again that Soderbergh can take any material and make it his own. I suggest that if you are looking for a quick thrill that will most likely be forgotten soon after then you should...




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