Friday, January 27, 2012

'Haywire' is slick, sophisticated low-budget action film

“Haywire,” director Steve Soderbergh’s low-budget answer to the “Mission: Impossible” and “Bourne” movies is more visceral and at the same time more methodical and deliberately paced than any other recent action movie.

Soderbergh is a chameleon-like filmmaker who seems like he wants to try everything at least once. This is his crack at a fight film, but he brings a certain degree of sophistication, intelligence and even grace to the proceedings.

The film starts in the middle and rewinds via flashback until it catches up with itself. As the movie opens a woman named Mallory (Gina Carano) is meeting a man (Channing Tatum) in a diner. As they start talking the audience is a bit lost, and just as we start to get the picture a fight breaks out.

This is not your ordinary movie fight. The punches are hard and brutal. Soderbergh doesn’t have the cool jazzy score by David Holmes that appears elsewhere in the movie on this or any of the other film’s numerous fight scenes. He wants you to hear every punch and kick.

Unlike other recent action movies, the fight isn’t shot in close up and full of quick edits. The compositions of the shots allow you to clearly see what happens and to realize that the fight appears to be the real deal.

The authenticity of the fighting can be partially credited to the film’s lead, Carano, a former mixed martial artist, in her first starring role. Soderbergh wanted the fights to be as real as possible. Casting an actual fighter was clearly the way to achieve that.

Accuracy is important to Soderbergh. This is the same filmmaker who when he made “The Good German,” a tribute to a 1940s film noir, he used only equipment available in the 1940s. When he directed “The Girlfriend Experience,” a movie about a high-end call girl, he cast a real porn star. These sort of gimmicks don’t always pay off in great cinema, but he’s an assured-enough filmmaker that the final products are at the very least interesting.

The casting of Carano paid off. She is a strong, beautiful woman who has a commanding screen presence. Her acting abilities are still up to debate. She isn’t bad by any means, but her emotional range is limited. She has a directness that is effective, though. Occasionally her reading of dialogue is flat, but she has an expressive face that is well utilized in quiet moments.

As the film progresses, it is revealed that Mallory is a former black-ops soldier who works for a company on various contracts from rescue missions to hits. She is very good at her job, but for convoluted reasons her boss and former lover (a slimy Ewan McGregor) decides to have her killed. This doesn’t go as planned and Mallory seeks revenge on all those involved.

That’s it in terms of plot, but that’s OK as the plot is just an excuse to have Carano go up against various male combatants including rising star Michael Fassbender.

Soderbergh, who has directed everything from the “Ocean’s” movies to “Traffic” to “Erin Brockovich” to last year’s “Contagion,” is a director who actors want to work with so this means even small roles are filled by the likes of Bill Paxton, Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas. There’s a reason actors want to work with him: He gets quality work out of them and makes them look good.

The film is about 90 minutes, but takes it time. It allows for leisurely paced interactions between characters that are punctuated by bursts of unexpected violence. There’s also a sly sense of humor to the film, especially during a car chase in the woods, the final confrontation with McGregor and in the concluding moment of the movie with Banderas.

“Haywire” isn’t going to please action fans who have grown accustomed to the frantic editing of recent action films, but is a slick well-acted piece of entertainment.


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