Jan 20, 2012

Haywire [15]

Dir: Steven Soderbergh
I know that it may not often seem like it, because of my hatred of some of the recent trends in the genre, but I love action movies, and I've a particular fondness for martial arts films. It's always intriguing when a director not known for a background in action takes on an action film (recently think Joe Wright with Hanna or David Mamet with Redbelt), and Steven Soderbergh, eclectic talent though he is, is definitely not someone I expected to be branching out into the genre. Perhaps that's why I liked Haywire so much.

Haywire is a lean little movie; just about 90 minutes long, the plot and characters are skeletal -Mallory Kane (ex MMA fighter Gina Carano), who works as a contractor in operations the US government doesn't want on the books, is betrayed by her employer (Ewan McGregor), who sends an assassin to kill her, she survives, goes on the run, and vows revenge - but on these bare bones Soderbergh hangs a pacy and thrilling film with some great action scenes.

The supporting cast all have rather broadly defined roles, but that's fine, because whether it's Michael Douglas as the slimy, possibly untrustworthy, Government figure, Bill Paxton as Mallory's Dad or Michael Fassbender as the suave hired killer, they all give capable performances. For her part Carano will obviously never be one of the world's greatest or most versatile actresses, but she works perfectly here, giving Mallory a tough, direct, no shit attitude in everything from relationships to fights, it's not an especially deep characterisation, but it is consistent.

Where Carano and Soderbegh really come good is in the action scenes. Having cast a real fighter in the lead, Soderbergh seems to want to keep the fights as real as possible, so everything is ground level, hard punching and kicking. There don't seem to be any wire or CGI assists for Carano here, and even the sound effects seem subdued (we've become used to hearing a punch land like a gunshot, but here there is a much more naturalistic tone). This simple approach extendeds to the way Soderbergh shoots the action. So often I have to complain about Hollywood action scenes losing all sense of geography, thanks to shakycam close ups and editing that appears to have been done with a blender, not so here. For the most part (bar a tense set piece in Mallory's Father's house), the action is at least in mid shot, so we get a sense of the space between characters and of what's around them, and so that we can actually see the simple but effective action choreography. Haywire's fights don't have the balletic complexity of my favourite martial arts films, but their forceful simplicity works well for the film and is fun and thrilling to watch.

Picking out standout set pieces is hard here, because all of them are great. In an early scene, after a foot chase, Carano does a short run up a wall to take someone down, which is one of my favourite stunts in the film, and a fight with two armed policemen in a laundry is another highlight, but the brutal fight with Michael Fassbender may be the film's finest hour. Overall though, Soderbergh marshals and shoots the action brilliantly, from fights to foot chases to stunt driving.

Haywire isn't brain food, but there's nothing wrong with that, it's taut, thrilling and fun, and has one of the best endings I've seen in some time. It's a rare beast; an American action movie I can wholeheartedly recommend.

2 comments:

  1. I was very disappointed by this. Yet again, Ewan McGregor has let me down. I may give it another chance in the future as I think I've been a little harsh on it, but that's pretty unlikely at the moment. NIce review though, it made me feel adequately guilty for disliking it at the cinema.

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  2. Yes, spot-on. In my opinion, Haywire and Redbelt are the two of the best martial arts movies made in a long time. I appreciate the realism above all. The last Chuck Norris movie I really liked was Forced Vengeance. I loved the fighting in Above the Law. But the cop-movie thing got old for me. Wish he would've done a true martial arts movie.

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