KATHMANDU: Steven Soderbergh’s latest film Haywire is a mixture of martial arts from the world over played by Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) who is a retired mixed martial arts fighter. Critics are seeing her as a Box Office success from the first scene in Haywire where she walks into a little café in upstate New York, sits down and sips a little tea, she has you hooked.
She plays an employee of a murky special contractor of the US government; it’s a firm that specialises in performing dirty work on assignment. Its own agents and enemy agents, who sometimes seem interchangeable, spend a great deal of time deceiving and double-crossing one another, and Mallory discovers during the course of the film that (spoiler, I guess) she can’t trust anyone. Why so many people want to kill her is a mystery, because she is so gifted at her job combining grace, elegance, speed and the ability to move blindingly fast and ingeniously using walls, angles, furniture and the bodies of others.
In the film, a conventional spy-gone-rogue tale made unconventional by its director and star, Carano plays heroine, a black-ops freelancer who seeks vengeance against her betrayers upon being double-crossed. Watching her in action, it’s easy to see why Soderbergh was so enamoured. Carano is a physical marvel: strong and agile, a skilled fighter and grappler with the face of a model and the shoulders of a linebacker. Having grown accustomed to waif-like action heroines played unconvincingly by the likes of Beckinsale, Jovovich, and Jolie, it’s refreshing to witness an actress who can deliver a knockout blow — and take one — with some credulity.
And Carano kicks a staggering amount of ass in Haywire. In the film’s many fight scenes, Soderbergh prefers wide angles and long takes, the better to showcase his star’s talent for violence. There are no shaky-cam close-ups to cheat the action, and the sound is almost strictly diegetic (narrative), lending each of Carano’s brawls (and they are brawls, messy and destructive) a brutal truth.
It’s when the action stops in Haywire that Carano’s deficiencies as an actress become apparent — she’s wooden and flat, well beyond the requirements of her coldly efficient character — and so Soderbergh labours conspicuously to ensure it hardly ever does.
Carano’s dialogue is wisely kept spare, her expressions limited exclusively to icy stares and Mona Lisa smiles. Most of the talking is done by her co-stars, an impressive lot that includes boss (Ewan McGregor) and former lover, Channing Tatum as a fellow freelancer, and Michael Fassbender as a British agent with whom she’s on a dubious mission.
Soderbergh knows his audience doesn’t want a lot of dialogue so Soderbergh and the writer keep the words to the minimum doing well for a large group of supporting characters and fill those roles with surprisingly big names. The result is that the film (although its plot is preposterous nonsense) has weight and heft and places Mallory at the centre of a diabolical labyrinth. Consider that a relatively little-known actress co-stars with Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas and Michael Douglas, and you realise that (1) Carano can hold her own, and (2) like Woody Allen, Soderbergh is one of those directors who can get just about anybody he wants to act in his movies.
Soderbergh seems to be amusing himself with the variety of his locations: Barcelona, Dublin, New Mexico, New York State and executive offices in unnamed cities. A film like Haywire has no lasting significance, but it’s a pleasure to see an A-list director taking the care to make a first-rate genre thriller.