Haywire (2011)

Steven Soderbergh's well-known modus operandi - one for the studio, one for himself - comes to a grinding halt with Haywire, a film made for nobody.

The idea was simple enough: Let's take a girl with unparalleled kick-ass ability - MMA fighter Gina Carano - and build a film around her. Let's make a B-film, an action-fest, but let's do it with style. This girl can hold her own in the ring, let's give her a chance to hold her own on camera. The story doesn't need to be complicated. Something about a black ops independent contractor, Mallory Kane, who gets double-crossed and takes revenge on her employers. Lot's of super cool, secret agent, kick-assery ensues.

That was a good idea. Too bad that's not the film Soderbergh actually made.

Let's deal with the style first.

Soderbergh shoots his own movies and has done so for some time, under the pseudonym Peter Andrews. I usually like his style, but something went wrong with Haywire. It's shot on video, and looks that way too. A faded, cheap look.

The action scenes should be front and center here, the high point of the movie, but they're strangely underwhelming. Oh sure, it's cool that we can see it really is Carano fighting. Soderbergh keeps his takes long, so we get a good look at the moves, but the rhythm is off, the moves aren't as cool as they should be. Often the fights don't make sense, on a blow-by-blow basis, and to be perfectly frank, some of them look like stage fights.

On top of that Soderbergh has decided to revisit his jumping-around-in-time-while-new-age-jazz-plays-in-the-background-because-this-is-really-hip style of editing, most prominent in a film like The Limey (which I never made it through, because of this style). Only bagpipes and jackets for dogs are more infuriating.

Now for the story.

In order for us to accept a film like this, with all its preposterous action set-pieces, the story must be simple and clear. This is not Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, there can't be any muddled storytelling, we need to be able to focus all our attention on the action. Unfortunately half of the film is built around an annoying flashback structure, and it's never really clear what the missions are, or whose side everybody is on. I get the sense that Soderbergh thinks it doesn't matter because "this is just an action film". Mr. Soderbergh is mistaken. He's slumming it in a genre far more complicated than he gives it credit for.

The characters' behavior is also without rhyme or reason. These are supposed to be professionals. I can't stand films where I'm told the characters are "top notch cool whatever", and then they act like blithering idiots, in order for the plot to work. If they really were as cool as promised, the film would never happen. The "top notch" agents in Haywire act completely illogically, with a stunning lack of tactical knowhow and problem-solving abilities.

And the story is slow, oh so slow. There are so many long boring scenes where nothing happens. So many scenes promise a climax or a revelation they're completely unable to deliver.

And finally there's Gina Carano. Now, this girl is SMOKING. Unbelievably so. And even though the fight scenes are rather clumsy, you can tell she's the real deal. But an actress she's not. Not even close. It's not that she's a bad actress, it's that she isn't one. At all. That's rather unfortunate, since Haywire is her movie.


I'm sorry Mr. Soderbergh, if you thought you could make a cool action movie with one hand tied to your back you were sorely mistaken. Better men have tried this and failed. It takes skill to make a good action movie, but it also takes skill to make a good B-movie. It's a lot harder than it looks. Next time, pick a girl who can act, get a better story, and put a little more effort into the look.

Face the fact that this one grabbed you by the neck, strangled you until you were blue, kicked you in the nuts, and put a pillow over your head to muffle the sound of the final gunshot. But don't worry, you work in Hollywood, where one can always get a second chance. If you had lived in Mallory Kane's world, you'd be in cold storage by now.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2/6/12 22:07

    Very interesting review, David. I happen to disagree with your review, actually liking some of the aspects you didn't. To wit:
    Shooting on video, to me, gave it a more "real" feel to it, especially some of the camera angles in the film like shooting from under pipes and between buildings exactly like a fly on the wall or bystander.
    I loved that the action scenes weren't perfect. As I said earlier, the fight scenes reminded me of Bourne Identity. Perhaps here, too, they used real fighting styles, and because they could be clumsy, they felt more real and not polished like the typical Hollywood action film.
    I loved loved LOVED the soundtrack. David Holmes did the soundtrack for the Ocean's movies. The best part of Twelve was the music and I bought the soundtrack.
    I thought The Limey was a fantastic film, also.
    I loved that this HAD a great story, in my opinion. Start slow, what's happening? Oh! ACTION, car chase, story. Talk about the story, develop.. ACTION, more story ACTION!
    This is a movie that has an incredible amount of dialog to develop the story. I think this is where it loses a lot of people. For me, although I love action movies like anyone else, I'm learning that when the action happens in most films, I'm bored and almost want to fast forward to get back to the dialog. Get back to the story.
    Finally, Gina Carano: So amazingly sexy and no she is NOT going to win any Oscars. However, I think this is what is appealing in this movie. She seems REAL and not acting. Like someone took a camera into her life.