(Note: This is an early review… Haywire arrives in theaters this Friday, January 20th)
“You shouldn’t think of her as a woman. That would be a mistake.”
In one line, a male character (no spoilers here, folks) tells another everything we need to know about our heroine. Yes, she’s nice to look at and needs little-to-no explanation as to her positive qualities, but if you think for a second that you have the advantage, she will take you down. And interestingly enough, you can say the same exact thing for the film itself.
But let me start this off by saying that the theory going around that films released in January are assured to be terrible is a very valid one. But what keeps this theory from becoming a law (remember high school science class?) is the appearance of a movie each of the last few years that made an entire month’s worth of crappy flicks worth sitting through. Furthermore, these films are often action movies with a hint of something else that sets it apart from the rest, causing many to take notice. Now I understand that not everyone enjoyed some of these selections (including, say, 2007′s Smokin’ Aces – I was a big fan of Joe Carnahan’s quirky bullet-fest; 2008′s Cloverfield – a love-it or hate-it homage to monster movies of the past; 2010′s Edge of Darkness – a return to form for crazy-man Mel Gibson; or even last year’s The Mechanic – what can I say? I’m a sucker for anything Statham) but in the same way that Taken took everyone in the the film world by storm at the beginning of 2009, one can only hope that Haywire, Steven Soderbergh’s latest offering, receives the same treatment. Because it is, in a word, awesome.
Haywire is a slick action thriller that centers around a Black Ops private contractor who has to face a world where double-crossing is not only normal but expected. Mallory Kane is a woman of few words. You see, when you can kick as much ass as she does, you don’t have to say a whole lot. And as the aforementioned “Janice Statham,” former Mixed Martial Arts superstar Gina Carano is a breath of fresh air into the genre. A fast-paced film (it clocks in at just over 90 minutes), Haywire drags viewers along for the ride without questions. You get in, you shut up, and you enjoy the ride. That’s it.
There are so many things to like about this film. From Carano’s emergence as a player in the action world (Dear Sly Stallone: Ever think about adding a lady to that group of Expendables?) to the already-existing star power of the rest of the cast (including a very welcome return from Michael Douglas), the biggest problem I had with the film was its length… it ended all too soon.
Soderbergh directs the film in a way that shouts “Remember me? I make great movies too!” at a time when we are honoring filmmakers with statues and gift bags at awards shows. His sleek camera movements and use of color (e.g. a quick cut from a color shot to a black-and-white shot of the same image and then back again) and sound (he shifts beautifully from scenes completely devoid of any score whatsoever – most noticeably some major fight scenes – to scenes where we watch the action take place while jazzing to classic Soderbergh tunes, a la Ocean’s Eleven) are prime examples of a man at the peak of his powers.
The cast clearly responded well to the genius-at-work, as there are some strong performances here. Carano, as I mentioned before, is stoic and unshaken. She carries the film without any issue. The combination of Soderbergh’s direction and her screen presence makes even a scene of her walking down the street as intense as anything that I’ve seen on the big screen lately. We also get great (albeit too-short) work from Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender (can you say “hot streak”?) and the previously discussed Michael Douglas (always great to see him in action – here’s hoping this was not the last we see of him). But surprising me greatly was Channing Tatum, who looks to do big things in 2012 (he has starring roles in three films this year – the romantic drama The Vow, the action comedy 21 Jump Street, and the big budget sequel G.I. Joe 2). As I watched him on screen, I could not get the thought out of my head that I was watching a young Brad Pitt in the making. From his drawl to his sarcasm, Tatum used every second he was on screen to his advantage. If the Step Up veteran can get a few dramatic roles under his belt (he’s also just finished filming another Soderbergh movie – albeit a comedy – called Magic Mike), we might have something here. You heard it here first!
But back to Carano. I would have to say that she is in roughly eighty of the ninety minutes of the film. It was hers to make or break. And as Mallory, a no holds barred killer, (hell, she is someone who keeps a gun in a drawer underneath her oven!) she made this film nothing but enjoyable. A far-from-stickly woman (Dear Angelina Jolie: It’s okay to have meat on your bones), she shows that sexiness can appear in many forms. It’s not in looking like a needs-more-than-just-a-salad supermodel. It’s not in being the all-too-common-for-action-flicks “damsel in distress.” And it’s definitely not being easily bullied or, for that matter, being forgiving. In Haywire, Carano is sexy because she is strong, intelligent, and, let’s face it, can beat all comers to a pulp. Because of her strong performance, fantastic action sequences, and top notch directing from Soderbergh, Haywire is not only a good action flick, but a great film overall, and one that you will likely hear from again come next January… when my top-10 list of 2012 comes out.