Ever noticed how quickly the words “Tarantino rip-off” come out whenever a filmmaker pays homage to b-level action thrillers from the seventies, has hardboiled criminals beat around the bush, or casts a plethora of big-name character actors? Steven Soderbergh does all of the above with Haywire. In fact, one could hardly tell the director had his hand in the project if it weren’t for his insistence on using the Red One digital camera despite its distractingly muted palette.
It’s too bad because his visual approach proves otherwise fascinating, favouring awkward, almost intrusive angles that make us feel like voyeurs in the life of the heroine, Mallory (Gina Cararo), a former Marine turned mercenary. Consider the scene in which Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) offers her the proverbial “one last job”, complete with a promise of good times near the beach. Hiding behind her furniture, the camera follows Mallory as she reorganizes her bookshelves from top to bottom, forcing her ex-boyfriend to gradually lower himself in order to stay in the frame. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere, though I’m not sure it adds anything to the story.
Truth be told, I find the plot of Haywire somewhat accessory, what with the jumbled timeline and the characters dropping in and out of the narrative like guest stars on a struggling sci-fi series. It starts with a rescue mission in Spain, followed by a gratuitous hook-up with Channing Tatum, presumably because Mallory hoped the stiffness would extend beyond his line delivery. Our heroine then discovers she’s been framed for murder and spends the rest of the film on the run from her colleagues and on the hunt for those who double-crossed her.
Scratch that. Actually, she spends the rest of movie kicking ass and taking names. Unlike the anorexic wire-fu models in Colombiana (2011) or Nikita, Gina Carano really can punch, kick, and submission-hold someone to death. What’s more, Soderbergh knows to keep the camera at a relative distance and let her (mixed martial) art fill the screen. I just wish he’d paired her with at least one adversary matching her extensive fight experience, if only to avoid some of the choppy editing. Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender, and Ewan McGregor have all proven themselves gifted thespians, but even they can’t fake surviving a hit from a UFC champion.
That’s a minor qualm though. The awkward cuts generally add to the exploitation feel of Haywire. I dig as well the use of extended silences between retro tracks to heighten suspense. It goes to show less can indeed mean more, especially when filming guerilla-style in Dublin and Barcelona. The two cities have such distinct personalities beyond the usual postcard sights, and I love the way the movie capitalizes on the genre’s low-budget grit to bring out their natural splendour.
The same can be said of Carano, whose unique beauty, by which I mean extreme hotness, would give any Hollywood starlet a run for her money when stripped of all the glitz. She may come off a bit limited as an actress, but the woman is an undeniable star: fierce (she does her own stunts), commanding (call her a bad name in her face), and sixteen kinds of gorgeous (I love that uneven bob). Yes, I’ve got a bit of a crush on her, no pun intended, but then so does Soderbergh. This, the camera makes undeniable.
If the director had retired as he keeps promising, he’d likely be painting Carano’s eyes right now or sculpting the curve of her neck. Instead, he’s made Haywire, which resembles Quentin Tarantino’s own seventies throwbacks only in that we sense a gifted creator indulging himself a bit heavily. I’m not complaining, mind you. It’s always fun to see people doing what they love. If Steven Soderbergh wants to spend his free time making Gina Carano a household name, then more power to him.