Thursday, 10 May 2012
Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton
By Alan Bacchus
The inspiration for this picture is well known. Steven Soderbergh, who upon watching an MMA fight with Gina Carano, developed a spy thriller action vehicle around her as an ass-kicking international super spy. It’s an admirable experiment for the man known for a career of varied cinematic experiments, such as casting a real-life porn star in a film about a call girl. The end result of this film, like The Girlfriend Experiment and others, is a mixed bag, but certainly not a full tilt action film to compete with James Bond or the Bourne films. Instead it's a measuredly paced, quiet and ultimately underwhelming thriller.
Ms. Carano is a surprisingly striking figure, a classic Mediterrean beauty with a nice body. But unlike Angelina Jolie in Salt, Carano is physically impressive enough to whoop some ass. However, I don't think the two qualities - beauty and strength - are mutually exclusive. Carano's acting skills have been unfairly trounced in many fan reviews. She has very little to say, smartly playing the quiet, understated assassin-type.
The plotting, as is typical with Soderbergh, is loopy by design, starting in the middle during which we find Mallory Kane (Carano) in upstate New York on the run from some government heavies, including Channing Tatum, who gets beaten down pretty good in a diner. This jumpstarts the film. From there Kane sort of kidnaps an awestruck teenager to whom she confesses her secrets. Along the way Soderbergh flashes back to the events which led her to New York, including a covert ops job from a private militia firm who hired her to free a kidnapped agent in Barcelona. This leads her to Dublin, where she’s set up to be a fall guy (girl) for the previous job. After being doublecrossed in Dublin, Kane seeks to turn the tables by tracking down her enemies and freeing herself from the bullseye on her back.
All of this is shot with a consciously minimalist style. Crisp colour-coded cinematography looks like Soderbergh’s recent work in Contagion, and the bouncing David Holmes soundtrack reminds us of the Oceans films. Despite the complex plotting, the pacing is slow, which results in an awkward viewing experience.
Sadly, Soderbergh doesn’t execute his fight scenes either. The set pieces are clear and defined, and they arrive very suddenly. There’s a disconnect between the realism of the direction between these fights, which feel like cinematic choreographed fight scenes. Soderbergh admirably shoots his scenes with as little cutting as possible, but as a consequence there’s a stagey, overly rehearsed feel to the movement. The fights do feel violent, specifically with the incorporation of Carano’s MMA moves, but everything seems to be set up around them and we’re taken too far out of the film. That said, Soderbergh does intergrate a fun old Asian cinema trick, changing the camera frame rate to ever so slightly speed up the film, and also cutting out a frame or two to make some of the kicks and punches seem harder.
While not a fully satisfying film, it’s another stop in Soderbergh’s fascnating career - never content to deliver what's expected and an admirable attempt to tell a familiar story in an unconventional form.
Haywire is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Alliance Films in Canada.