Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Contagion) trains his unique eye on the action genre with Haywire, a stylish film with an A-list supporting cast. The star, however, is cinematic newcomer Gina Carano, a former mixed martial arts champion whom Soderbergh saw in a televised fight and decided should headline a film. Though it is familiar in many respects--the lone-wolf tough-girl assassin is double crossed and begins a brutal revenge mission--Haywire also has an important twist: in an era of disorienting hand-held cinematography, MTV-style rapid-fire editing, computer-generated illusions, and heavily-relied-upon stunt doubles, this is an action film where the fight sequences are shot in a clear-eyed, removed, almost clinical way and where the star is a true athlete capable of every punch, kick, leap, and lunge. The five or six action passages, including a hotel-destroying two-person brawl and a chase through and over the streets of Dublin, are true showstoppers, choreographed and shot with absolute clarity and staged with playful showmanship. This not only renders the violence much more wrenching--every body shot and wall slam is truly felt--but gives contemporary movie-going audiences the rare opportunity to 100 percent experience the actors' physicality and the spacial dynamics of the conflicts. Remember how in Quantum of Solace, the inert 2008 Bond film, shots would last for mere milliseconds and any choreography was squandered due to the film's penchant for extreme closeups? Haywire is the antithesis of such fare.
The film has other pleasures, too. Not least among them is a boisterous, brass-heavy original score by David Holmes (wonderful name), who previously scored the Ocean's trilogy for Soderbergh. On multiple occasions Soderbergh lets dialogue and sound effects completely fall away, leaving only Holmes' colorful compositions to guide the audience, generating suspense and mystery; a successful gambit because the music is so rich.
Though their roles are hardly nuanced, the veritable boatload of recognizable names and faces on hand--Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton, Michael Angarano--add a collective gravity to the film. These are people with distinct screen presences and an ability to grab hold of and maintain the audience's engagement with minimal screen time. And while Gina Carano's performance, with its distant stares and consistent tone of stone cold intensity, may not be Oscar worthy, there is no denying she's captivating on the screen and has clear potential beyond the world of mixed martial arts.
Lem Dobbs' meticulous, minimalist screenplay is almost too cool for school--it doesn't have the emotional complexity of Hanna or Drive, and the quick third-act explanation of the plot after lots of ambiguity and jargon-heavy misdirection is a tad too blunt and detached--but otherwise Haywire, with its fiery and simple approach to action and prestigious cast, is an early-year delight.