You gotta hand it to Steven Soderbergh … the director never stays in one genre for long. Following up his acclaimed end-of-the-world medical thriller Contagion, Soderbergh’s switched gears once again to tackle the spy-action movie genre, and he takes a good stab at it with Haywire, an effective film that’s simultaneously a throwback to old-school spy thrillers and a bold, original spin on the style. In a brave move, Soderbergh framed his movie around Gina Carano, one of the first women to compete in Mixed Martial Arts (and usually win). Carano’s a relatively inexperienced actress, and she carries the film! Fortunately, she’s surrounded by a very distinguished cast of male co-stars, including Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender, Bill Paxton and Michael Douglas. This caliber of actors is typically not seen in action films, especially not ones led by a new actor—that’s the power of Soderbergh.
The story focuses on Mallory Quinn (Carano), a mercenary spy-for-hire working for a government-sponsored private company led by McGregor (we know he’s up to no good, because he has a bad haircut). Double-crosses are revealed and Quinn is on the run. No worries; she knows how to handle herself. Carano’s work in this film heralds the arrival of a new action star. She’s hot, she’s tough, and she has charisma—a sexy aura of mystery that recalls Angelina Jolie at times. Her line readings fall a little flat at times, but that will improve with subsequent roles I’m sure.
The marvelous supporting men certainly are no slouch in the acting department. McGregor is the weenie you love to hate; Fassbender (who seems to be in everything these days) struts his spy stuff effectively, giving a glimpse of what might have been if he was cast as James Bond (Daniel Craig got the job last time it was up for grabs, but Fassbender’s rumored to be next in line); Paxton is supportive and sympathetic as Quinn’s father; Tatum is effective as her fellow spy; and Banderas and Douglas are shifty and hard to peg down as the puppet masters behind the scenes.
Soderbergh brings some nice touches to the tired spy genre. Music is used effectively—the score recalls classic spy films of the 1960s and 70s, with jazzy touches and a bizarrely upbeat tone that contrasts the downbeat action. At times, there’s no music at all, enhancing the reality of the visuals. Oh yeah, you can bet Carano did her own stunts and fighting. While the title Haywire implies this will be a non-stop, crazy actionfest, in truth the film has plenty of quiet moments. At times the story can be a little obtuse and hard to follow, but ultimately you’ll know what’s going on.
Shot on a low budget, Haywire still makes for a handsome Blu-ray. The story takes Quinn around the world on her journey, so you’ll see snowy woods, tropical climes, and in between, all rendered nicely in this well-shot film. Bonus features are scarce, only two features about Carano and the male cast, and no commentary. But Haywire is a cool film that, while not a major release in theaters, will hopefully get the attention and acclaim it deserves in its home video incarnation.Buy Haywire on Amazon [Blu-ray]