The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.

Reviewed by Lucy Fife Donaldson.

Director Steven Soderbergh
Length 93 mins
Certificate 15 / R
Rating *****-----
Filmmaking: 2  Personal enjoyment: 3

Photo from the article Trailer.

Steven Soderbergh’s latest dip into the mainstream - following quite closely last year’s all-star disaster movie Contagion (2011) - is an action film, and rather assertively so. The narrative is minimal and efficiently established in the trailer: Mallory (Gina Carano), a former marine and now top operative for an independent contractor, is set up and double-crossed, and in order to clear her name must fight a host of male stars (Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender and Channing Tatum); older experienced performers are also in attendance to fill out the roles of ex-military father (Bill Paxton) and shadowy deal-maker (Michael Douglas).

Complete with multiple fights, chases and international travel across the US and Europe, the film presents a fairly conventional addition to contemporary action cinema. Like the Bourne franchise, much of the film concerns its protagonist working out how she stands in relation to the various forces at work, with plenty of physical action required to protect herself and her mission to discover the truth. Haywire also shares the Bourne’s interest in a more ‘realistic’ presentation of action and physical contact, in comparison to the more bombastic gadgetry of, say, the Mission Impossible films.

Haywire’s main attraction, in terms of its narrative and the more spectacular and physicalised pleasures of action cinema, is Mallory as portrayed by Gina Carano. The film certainly offers a welcome addition to the rosta of female action characters, recent action cinema having been dominated by highly glamorous female stars such as Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron and Uma Thurman. Carano might be a newcomer to film (this is her second feature film to date, and first starring role), but as a (now apparently retired) mixed martial arts fighter she has been a performer for quite some time, having appeared as a Gladiator on the reality competition TV show American Gladiators as well as various other series and documentaries. Much has been made in reviews and commentary of Carano as a ‘non-performer’, particularly in the context of the film’s perceived problems, but I feel like this is rather a misleading path to take when thinking about its successes and failures.

Carano’s physicality and Soderbergh’s presentation of it are certainly the driving forces of the film. The way she fights the male characters is dynamic, especially in her utilsation of surroundings and the particularities of her body’s strengths to full effect. It is genuinely exciting to see a woman take on these physical feats in a manner that is plausible, and therefore somewhat more satisfying than it often can be. I also agree with NPR’s Monkeysee on the importance of the fights being shot in ‘full view’, without the fragmentation of space and bodies that is often our experience of physical action, as well as the contrast Carano’s athletic body presents to highly glamorous female action stars. For me, however, there were other elements of the film’s style - not to mention its narrative construction, which features a very clunky framing device for part of the plot - that impacted negatively on my engagement. Such elements finally led me to the unfortunate feeling this foray of Soderbergh’s into straight action cinema (as opposed to the glossy and comedic take of the Ocean’s series) was somewhat begrudging.

This review was published on January 29, 2012.

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