Thursday, May 3, 2012


Let's cut to the chase.  If you are the sort of person who watches zombie movies just to enjoy one awesome headshot, if you watch martial arts movies just for that final scene where the hero beats up a dojo, or if you watch crappy action movies in the hopes of a single awesome sequence, you need to watch Haywire.  Like, right now.  There is one really good fight scene and a fantastic fight scene (so, that's two recommended fight scenes) in this movie.  If that's all you need to know, go rent it now; both take place in the first half of the movie, so you can catch before the 45 minute mark.
...but if you love cornrows, you'll have to wait until the end

If you're the sort of person who cares about little things like plot and acting, here's the rest of my thoughts.

Meet Mallory (Gina Carano).  Mallory is a a spec ops contractor who takes dirty jobs for the American government.  She's not an assassin, because that would make her unsympathetic; she is the person you put on a high difficulty job to save lives and kick asses.
Kicking ass in 3...2...1...
Mallory worked a job in Barcelona with, amongst other people, hunky Aaron (Channing Tatum).  There, they saved a dissident of some sort from mean people.  When she arrived home, her boss/ex-lover/soulless ginger, Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), coaxes her into another job, one where she and an agent she had never worked with, the hunky Paul (Michael Fassbender), have to assure the safety of a VIP.  While babysitting isn't her favorite thing to do, Mallory complies because plot advancement.  At the end of their mission, though, Paul tries to kill Mallory.  What the hell is going on?  Is it a double-cross?  A triple-cross?  It's a suspenseful/thrilling mystery!

Haywire's lead actress, Gina Carano, is not a professional actress.  She's an MMA fighter.  In other words, she performs her own (awesome) stunts, but she hasn't exactly been to acting school.  That doesn't necessarily mean she's a bad actress, but...well, calling her mediocre would be generous.  This is the sort of film where the heroine's dialogue is terse and tough.  Carano's delivery is tough, but tough like wood, instead of tough like MMA.  How important is that to the overall quality of this film?  I'll get back to that later.  The rest of the cast is solid all around, with a few impressive performances.  I can't believe I'm writing this, but Channing Tatum was pretty good in Haywire.  He delivered is lines in a pretty natural way, had some solid conversational humor, and a really good fight scene.  When I see Tatum in a film, I assume he's going to be the dumb twin of the Matt Damon puppet in Team America: World Police, but I was shocked at how much I didn't hate him here.
"Maaatt Day...Day...***sigh***  LINE?"
Michael Fassbender was even better.  Fassbender has charmed onscreen before, but his fight scene with Carano was completely awesome.  Sure, he did the whole "acting" thing beforehand, but he looked really good in a very physical way here; his scenes were definitely the highlight of the film. 
Not as sexy as it looks, trust me
After those two, the bad-assness of the supporting cast takes a definite dive, although the acting is still good.  Michael Angarano gave a fantastically genuine performance as a fairly superfluous character --- he wasn't quite useless, but Angarano's line delivery was some of the most natural I've seen in a long while.  Michael Douglas shows up and reminded me more of his character in Traffic than of a corpse, which has been my experience with him for the past decade.  Ewan McGregor was surprisingly good as a bureaucratic jerk; it's been a while since I've actually enjoyed McGregor in a movie --- and I don't know if this role really enters into "enjoyment" for me --- but it was refreshing to see him playing against type.  Who knew he would make a good heel?  Antonio Banderas was solid in a limited role, but he did have an impressively dense beard.  So there's that. 
"The password is 'Nasonex'"
Bill Paxton played Mallory's father and, aside from having a mustache, was about what you should expect from Paxton.  Oh, and if you're an Amélie fan, Mathieu Kassovitz makes a rare English-speaking appearance.

The supporting acting was pretty good, I think that's pretty obvious.  How about the direction?  Steven Soderbergh was the man in charge of Haywire, and he brought with him some definite stylistic choices.  Are you tired of Paul Greengrass-type action movies, where the camera is a little shaky and the fight scenes have a lot of close-ups cuts?  Soderbergh apparently was.  Haywire is filmed primarily in long shots with minimal editing.  That means you definitely can tell that the actors do most of their own stunts (and Carano almost all of them), and that is extremely impressive.  Soderbergh also takes pains to not over-explain the plot; this isn't as dense as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but the lack of exposition can make it a bit hard to follow at times.  I liked that Haywire was told in an intelligent fashion that respected the audience.  Unfortunately, Soderbergh's style for the film led to a lot of the non-action scenes to drag.  It's one thing to watch a cool fight sequence that was clearly made without edits, it's less enthralling to see Mallory walk into a store and buy a cell phone from a distance. 

Soderbergh's stylistic choices could have worked.  It's a ballsy play, making a movie that treats espionage in a moderately realistic and unexaggerated way; there is a fine line between suspenseful intrigue and monotonous staring.  Casting Gina Carano was another interesting choice.  Unfortunately, the film's style and the actor's talent didn't quite mesh.  Don't get me wrong --- Carano was absolutely the correct person for the fight scenes.  My problem is that Haywire has far too many non-fight scenes to make up for Carano's awful delivery.  To put it in plain terms, she was clearly out-acted by Channing "I'm a freaking coin" Tatum.  That's a sick burn.  Maintaining the longer scenes with fewer obvious editing cuts made the film feel fairly realistic, but this also emphasized Carano's lack of charisma.  I also felt bored by the excessive chase scenes in this movie.  Again, Soderbergh's choice to film scenes from farther away took away some of the immediacy and scenes that should have felt tense or quick were puzzlingly dull (the car chase scene in the snow, for instance).

Without the two early fight scenes, I would probably rip into Haywire with pleasure.  However, those scenes are totally awesome.  She even punches a guy in the dick with his own gun!
Yeah, that was my reaction, too
Aside from the final fight scene on the beach (which looked especially staged), all of the hand-to-hand combat was stellar.  It just doesn't really fit the tone of the rest of the film; Carano was performing like she was in The Expendables 2, but everyone else thought they were making The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.  Both styles have their charms, but they don't make for a tasty sandwich. I will grant that it does have a good supporting cast that gives an otherwise overlong (even at 93 minutes) and sterile plot life.  I also appreciated what Soderbergh was going for --- an intelligent bad-ass spy story --- but he didn't have the talent (or, honestly a script) that could make that happen.

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