Haywire is the action movie equivalent of a hungry tiger. The plot, from ace writer Lem Dobbs (The Limey, Dark City), is so tightly-coiled that I wondered if it would explode and fall apart at some point. I’m happy to report it never does. Like the central character, Mallory Kane (Gina Carano), it keeps pushing forward with relentless fury.
Carano is an MMA fighter by profession, and it shows. The audience I saw this with literally applauded the fight sequences. She may have room to grow as an actress, but as an action star, she is born fully-formed. The fights here feel more dirty and real than standard movie fights, even though you know they are still heightened in subtle ways. The aesthetic is the opposite of the school of elegant wire-fu. In Haywire the actors do amazing things, but never have to defy physics or gravity to do them.
The cool fights would be for naught if the story wasn’t interesting. At first it seems like it might be a “female Bourne” movie. But it’s rather the opposite in several ways. Sure, Mallory has been double-crossed and she’s looking for revenge, but she remembers everything. She behaves like a real mercenary might in her situation. She doesn’t have an unlimited supply of cool weaponry or a lot of well-placed friends who can assist her. All she has is what she can improvise with in the situation. She knows when to set a trap and wait and she knows when to come charging in with the element of surprise.
Due to the partial-flashback structure of the plot, it is the audience that is playing catch-up for the first part of the film. Dobbs and soon-to-retire director Steven Soderbergh have their cake and eat it too, introducing us to Mallory in-control before showing us how she handles situations outside her expectations. An innocent bystander-cum-hostage, Scott (Michael Angarano) becomes the audience surrogate. We know we’re supposed to root for Mallory, but we also feel Scott’s sense of danger.
The other players are all great, especially Ewan MacGregor as Mallory’s slimy ex-boyfriend and employer. In the end, I was enjoying the film so much I wished Dobbs and Soderbergh had spent more time unwinding what they coiled up. At just 92 minutes, there had better be a sequel in the works — I want more.
Soderbergh also did the cinematography, which feels a bit raw and under-lit at times. Since my taste as a cineaste runs toward meticulously-composed images, it was a bit of a hurdle for me at first. But once I accepted the film as a run-and-gun affair that just happens to have A-level actors, it all snapped into place.
The screening I attended was part of the Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith series, and so we were treated to an interview with Carano after the film. She revealed that the plot had been nipped and tucked in several ways via a string of reshoots. They added more fights, and saved the life of a particular character. (Which one? — you’ll just have to go subscribe to the podcast.) Whatever they did, it paid off. This is not a profound film, but it has no pretensions of being one. As a showcase for Carano’s talents and genre thriller, it is deadly effective.