Directed by: Steven Soderbergh | 93 minutes | action, thriller | Actors: Gina Carano, Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Michael Angarano, Bill Paxton, Mathieu Kassovitz, Eddie J. Fernandez, Anthony Brandon Wong, Maximino Arciniega, Tim Connolly, Edward A. Duran, Aaron Cohen, Julian Alcarazo
The name Gina Carano will not immediately ring a bell with everyone. The raven-haired American mainly made her way as a mixed martial arts fighter and played only a few small roles in insignificant films before she was asked by none other than Steven Soderbergh to star in his action thriller ‘Haywire’ (2011). The versatile director wanted something different and chose a woman instead of a man to play the role of a secret agent who does the dirty work for the government. Carano is very strong, very fast and agile and she has a merciless fighting mentality. Because Soderbergh places great emphasis in his film on her impressive mastery of various strength and martial arts – and thereby shifts the focus from her lack of acting experience – Carano passes her first major test on the silver screen with flying colours.
‘Haywire’ immediately gets off to a solid start with a mysterious scene in a diner in a wintery setting. Mallory Kane (Carano) is visibly wary when a man, Aaron (Channing Tatum), who appears to be an old friend of hers, approaches her. We can’t tell much from their vague conversation, until the get-together suddenly degenerates into a fight in which the cups of coffee fly around and the two fight each other firmly. Mallory eventually flees thanks to passerby Scott (Michael Angarano), who tells them what has happened to her recently on the way to safety. Through flashbacks, the viewer also gets to know who Mallory is and what she has on her plate. She talks about her work as a secret agent and how she and Aaron were sent to Barcelona to rescue a kidnapped Chinese journalist. This is where Soderbergh’s craftsmanship comes into play: in a particularly tightly edited scene, we become part of the events while enjoying a very fine jazzy soundtrack by David Holmes. Soderbergh at his best. It is these kinds of visual finds that distinguish ‘Haywire’ from the standard action thriller.
The scene closes with a breathtaking chase and an equally thrilling man versus woman fight that gets the adrenaline pumping. It doesn’t take long for Mallory to realize she’s been ambushed by her mysterious patrons, but who is the evil genius anyway? Bigwig Coblenz (Michael Douglas), the slippery charmer Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas) or her equally cunning and elusive direct boss Kenneth (Ewan McGregor)? Or maybe the untouchable Studer (Mathieu Kassovitz)? She decides to play along for a while and has Kenneth send her to Dublin for another job, where she has to accompany the stylish Irishman Paul (Michael Fassbender) to a swanky party. She is all too aware that she is being entrapped here and tries to stay one step ahead of Paul. Since he hasn’t fallen on his head either and knows all the tricks from the book, this results in a fascinating cat-and-mouse game that degenerates into a mad fight in their very expensive hotel room: another great highlight in which not only both actors but also the choreographer JJ Perry and Soderbergh themselves play a starring role.
‘Haywire’ is not a film that needs the script, because despite the high entertainment content, the story is fairly predictable and the characters are hardly explored in depth. Instead, Soderbergh lets us feast on unpretentious yet stylishly shot spectacle, tightly choreographed fight scenes and actors who visibly enjoy their work. In that respect ‘Haywire’ is a continuation of ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ (2001), for which Soderbergh also managed to drum up an impressive cast and from which the enjoyment of the game was also splashed. Whether we have a new star in the Hollywood firmament with Carano cannot be said on the basis of this one role. She is, however, a lot more convincing as an action heroine than Angelina Jolie, who until recently seemed to have the exclusive right to tough and physical female roles, but is really too glamorous for the heavy work.
‘Haywire’ is a very entertaining style exercise by Steven Soderbergh. His recognizable hypothermic approach, tight editing, fine soundtrack and dry sense of humor give this efficiently shot thriller its own face. The fact that the film doesn’t have much going for it should not spoil the fun. Powerhouse Gina Carano, thanks in large part to her astonishing mastery of the martial arts, holds her own among a battalion of top actors. We wouldn’t be surprised if she became Hollywood’s new favorite action heroine.