We all want different things from movies at different times. Sometimes, we want a filmmaker to push the boundaries of his art. And sometimes, we want them illuminate the human condition in a way that will make our souls weep.
And sometimes, we just want to see someone beat the crap out of a bunch of people who deserve it.
Stephen Soderbergh’s “Haywire” falls into that last category.
The plot is boiler plate. Secret agent betrayed by her higher extracts revenge. The modern wrinkle being that she works for a private security firm and not the Government. Now one would expect a sharp critique from these practices from the guy who made “Traffic” but don’t. It ain’t that kind of movie. Lem Dobbs’ script has a terse and literate surface but is mostly meant to be a delivery system for mayhem and ass-kicking.
That’s where Gina Carano comes in.
A former MMA fighter. Carano isn’t the most natural of actresses. But she has a strong presence and a surprisingly beautiful face. (Surprising given her previous career that involved people punching it.) And when the time comes for ass to be kicked, she kicks that said ass like Pelé in his prime. If this were the eighties and Cannon Films were still a going concern, we’d see Carano punching terrorists and Russian Mobsters every six months. And that is meant as a complement.
You get the sense that just before filming started, Soderbergh screened the fight scene between Sean Connery and Robert Shaw in “From Russia With Love” and told everyone, “I want every fight scene in this movie to top that!”.
(Actually, only one scene in the movie does. But boy, does it ever! You’ll know it when you see it.)
Again don’t look for anything profound. This is Soderbergh in Pop Art mode. Once again, he’s acting as his own DP (Under the Nom De Plume of Peter Andrews.) and if nothing else, the film is worth watching just to study frame composition and to watch Soderbergh push the limits of digital camera technology with his color palette. (When you watch the last fight that takes place on a beach, you get the sense that he’s auditioning for a planned remake of “Danger: Diabolik.) And the whole thing is wrapped up in a David Holmes score that feels like Lalo Schifrin by way of Fatboy Slim.
You have a first rate supporting cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton, Michael Douglas. Hell, even Channing Tatum turns in good work and I’ve never been that impressed with him. (And no, I haven’t seen “Magic Mike” yet. And although I hear he’s terrific in it, the trailer made me feel too self conscious to watch it. Ladies, you know how you feel when a Victoria’s Secret commercial comes on? I totally get that now.) But mostly they’re there to act as foils or punching bags to Carano who Soderbergh dotes on like Von Sternberg did on Marlene Dietrich. (Minus the punching.)
Sometimes, you want to see a filmmaker push himself. And sometimes, you just want to see him getting his action film ya-yas off.
If you’re in the mood for the latter, “Haywire” is your movie.
In the comments, just for fun, what art house filmmaker would you life to see to an action movie and with who as the lead?