January 25, 2012

Movie Review: Haywire

On the surface, Haywire has a pretty simple and familiar story. How many times have you seen a story where a top government operative goes on a mission, gets betrayed, and needs to find out what happened? Don't bother to answer that, it will probably take too long to count them all. On top of that, you have probably seen me complaining about some recent movies feeling like they have been stripped down to the Cliff's Notes versions of themselves. Normally, this is not a good thing. However, there are exceptions to every rule and director Steven Soderbergh has crafted one. You see, Haywire is a movie that has been boiled to the bare essence, to its benefit.

It is rather strange how much I like Haywire. This is a solid tale of betrayal and action. It is a thriller that tells you what you need to know, but not everything that you want to know. Within its imperfect narrator structure we are given a singular point of view, the view of our central character could not possibly know everything. What we get is that stripped down story, perhaps a little cold, maybe a little aloof, definitely not one prone to emotional outbursts. This is a very strange reaction, the elements that would usually keep me at arms length actually drew me in.

The story centers on Mallory (Gina Carano). She is a highly regarded agent working for an independent contractor. As the movie opens we catch up with her at a small cafe in upstate New York. Aaron (Channing Tatum), a fellow operative catches up with her with intentions to bring her in. This doesn't go well and it becomes apparent that something went down on a recent mission. This leads to a fight and a quick getaway in the car of another patron of the cafe (Michael Angarano).

The car ride/getaway turns into something of a show and tell session as Mallory tells her "hostage" the details that led up to the current predicament. We go through a couple of missions where she is part of an extraction team saving some reporter that the government wants free. This leads into another mission where she plays the role of wife for an MI6 agent named Paul (Michael Fassbender). This mission reveals some not so nice things about her boss (Ewan MacGregor) and a contact (Antonio Banderas). Everyone turns on her and now Mallory is out for answers.

In all seriousness, the story is secondary to the way the story is told, the way everything is executed. I cannot claim to be an awfully big Soderbergh fan, but there is something about the flow of Haywire that is a thing of beauty for me. It has a somewhat lyrical flow that is a lot of fun to watch. There is some good choices made in the audio design with music dropping out during key action sequences, interesting angles, and just an overall unique style. There is a combination of style and stripped down substance that makes this work as a whole that is more than the sum of its parts.

At the same time, there is an interesting patchwork quality. It is kind of like they only had a few days with each of the big name stars to fit in around the full time work they were getting with Gina Carano. So, we get small roles from Tatum, MacGregor, Fassbender, Banderas, Angarano, Michael Douglas, and Bill Paxton. It is a pretty impressive supporting cast for the first time star in Carano.

With that said, Gina Carano is quite the find. Before this movie I had never heard of her. I have come to learn that she is a retired MMA fighter. I loved the fights in this movie. The style is not the usual brawling or martial arts we see so often, it shows the MMA style in a "real world" application and shows how it can be effective. At the very least it looked different and I liked it. On top of that, wow, Carano really knows how to throw down, I feel sorry for the stuntmen she faced off with as she was throwing some brutal punches and kicks. I do hope this is the start of her career, I would live to see some more action movies with her. She can hold her own in fights, yet never loses her femininity.

I may end up on the minority regarding this movie, but I loved it. The stripped down story, the look, the style of the fights and other action, the characters, it all just worked for me. Haywire is strong and to th point. I recommend you give it a shot, see if you see what I see.

Highly Recommended.

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Karl Kaefer said...

Just saw this last night- I couldn't agree more with your review. Gina Carano is a definite find!!

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