Movie Review: Haywire
Soderbergh's puzzle film offers a spin on the action picture
Posted: March 7, 2012
Jumping the guns. Carano leaps over Dublin's rooftops in this unusual action film.
Its unconventional take on the action genre is perhaps the best and the worst trait of Steven Soderbergh's Haywire.
Since his 1989 début feature, Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Soderbergh has preferred "pet projects" that sometimes veer off the beaten track into the positively outlandish to more big-budget outings like Erin Brockovich and the trilogy of Ocean's Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen.
It is important to note the name next to the screenplay credit on Haywire: Lem Dobbs. Dobbs' previous collaboration with Soderbergh was on the 1999 film The Limey, a film so fragmented it could be said to have anticipated the fractured narratives of Amores Perros and Babel, though on a much smaller scale.
Haywire starts in a diner in upstate New York, where Mallory (Gina Carano) and Aaron (Channing Tatum) are having a conversation about people we haven't met and a mission we know nothing about. There seems to be some history between the two, but nothing is explained. When Mallory refuses to get back in the car with Aaron and a brutal fight suddenly breaks out between the two, in which Aaron is pinned to the ground and left barely conscious, Mallory flees with a young man who will be our way into the plot.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
With Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Angarano, Channing Tatum
As they speed away, Mallory starts telling him all the details of the events of the past week, though they are sometimes sketchy at best. In the space of 10 minutes, the action shoots from the diner to Washington, D.C. to Barcelona to San Diego, snapping between locations with such force it leaves us with minor whiplash.
But once we settle into the groove - and a general lack of dialogue helps rather than hinders our comprehension - things become rather interesting. It is made clear at the beginning that Mallory has special qualities, for she is requested personally by a multimillionaire, played by Michael Douglas, who sent her on the mission to Barcelona in the first place.
Immediately after the successful Barcelona mission, Mallory is sent to Dublin, ostensibly on a different assignment, but we know better - even though we don't know anything else.
In the meantime, action scenes are staged with little sound, except for the constant beat of David Holmes' music on the soundtrack, but they sometimes feature black-and-white footage for no apparent reason. And yet, Soderbergh's play with the art form pays off. He fashions a film that is unlike any other in the genre, and one that, despite the very nonlinear storyline, never comes across as pretentious.
We have the unknown face of Gina Carano to thank for keeping the film grounded. A professional martial arts fighter, Carano's acting is less expressive than one might expect, but luckily her character has no need for emotions. Her reason for being onscreen is her fighting and her face (she reminds us of Anna Paquin and Kate Hudson), both of which serve the film well.
Mallory is the kind of girl who keeps a gun in her kitchen drawer, and though she is a special agent in a film, she has a father and he proves to be another well-conceived addition to the screenplay, playing an important part in the story's development.
Lem Dobbs and Soderbergh complement each other and it is a pity they have not worked together more often. When, during another mission on a grand estate outside Dublin, the landlord tries to lure Mallory into accompanying him on a visit through his maze, this moment of self-reference is understated yet a perfect symbol of the film's seeming hall-of-mirrors aspect.
At first, the film seems quaint and even soulless, but as is the case with so many other action films, the last 15 minutes provide us with a succinct and very tidy explanation of how the many pieces in the puzzle fit together. There are also a few very effective set pieces, such as the scene in which Mallory walks down a road in Dublin and suspects everyone around her of following her. She has good reason to be paranoid.
"I don't like loose ends," Mallory says to her partner on the Barcelona job, and her determination to tie everything up neatly, though she might bruise a few skulls in the process, is another fair comparison to Soderbergh, who takes us through amazing action scenes, staged with a visual detachment that can't exactly be pinpointed, and dumps us frenzied but satisfied on the other side.
André Crous can be reached at