Haywire is the film I imagine Sucker Punch wanted to be. Director Steven Soderbergh sidesteps a cohesive plot in favor of delivering a kick-ass new female action hero who puts the crunch in nut crunch. MMA fighter and American Gladiator Gina Carano stars as Mallory, a contracted soldier who is deadly when it comes to one-on-one combat with men. Each fight scene becomes its own mini movie, drawing you into the finessed fight scenes whenever the story fails to keep your attention. Soderbergh is completely unapologetic when it comes to focusing on action over story. However, by the end of the film he does give plot-lovers something to chew on and wonder if they actually saw an intricate movie instead of a string of beautifully choreographed hand-to-hand combat scenes.
Haywire begins with Mallory sitting alone in a café. You immediately suspect that something is about to happen or that something has already happened. Soderbergh does an excellent job of setting up the tension with a few slow paced shots. Aaron (Channing Tatum) shows up and sits down for what appears to be two acquaintances catching up over coffee. Writer Lem Dobbs gives viewers a meaty dialogue sequence to set the stage for the film. Aaron and Mallory engage in a game of verbal chess that neither of them seems interested in. And, that’s why you know what comes next, but when it does it is still a surprise.
About fifty percent of the film is told in flashback. After the diner scene, Soderbergh takes us back in time to Barcelona to discover how she ended up there. The flashback tale is a little hard to accept at first. Mallory, despite all of her training, is fully disclosing her background to a stranger from the diner. Their only real connection is that he decided to let her use his car without putting up a struggle. After watching the movie, I would probably let someone like Mallory use my car too after seeing her fight.
Typically, action movies tend to jump right into quick cutting. However, Soderbergh draws a sharp contrast between action and dialogue. Dialogue sequences are allowed time to breath and for good reason. Michael Douglas (as Coblenz), Antonio Banderas (as Rodrigo) and Ewan McGregor (as Kenneth) do a brilliant job of drawing you into a conspiracy that you will have a difficult time in deciphering. You want to understand what is going on because their methodical conversations are so deliberate, you know that there must be something deeper to uncover. However, Soderbergh does not make problem solving easy.
There are a lot of bits and pieces of a story and puzzle dangling around for you to pick up on. It sort of makes sense in the end, but not really. It’s more like Soderbergh saying, “Remember everything I showed you earlier? Well, here’s what actually happened.” And, you’re left thinking, “Oh, okay, I guess that makes sense.”
Each of Carano’s fight scenes is utterly engrossing. Thanks to her MMA background, she’s able to perform several stunts, allowing the camera time to savor each movement without cutting from her throwing a punch to the punch landing or from an arm grab to a scissor takedown. Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class) also gets his share of action as Paul.
Haywire is an entertaining introduction to a new female-action-hero franchise. Much like Joe Wright’s Hanna, Haywire should be commended for bringing forth more women leads in a typically male-dominated field.
*Photos by Five Continents Imports