'Haywire' is unorthodox approach to standard genre pic

Ewan McGregor and Gina Carano star in "Haywire." SOURCE RELATIVITY MEDIA
January 30, 2012

Steven Soderbergh is a director determined to dabble in as many genres as possible. Since his breakthrough in 1989 with the intimate drama "Sex, Lies and Videotape," he has successfully tried his hand at period pieces ("King of the Hill," "The Good German,"), crime thrillers ("Out of Sight," "The Limey,"), heist flicks ("Oceans Eleven" through "Thirteen"), science fiction ("Solaris"), bio-pics ("Che"), romantic comedies ("Full Frontal") and documentaries ("And Everything is Going Fine").

And even as diverse his cinematic library is, the films within all bear his fingerprints: they are dialogue-driven, marked by strong scores and a reliance on montages, and typically carry a number of peculiar-but-effective camera placements throughout.

With his latest, "Haywire," can now check the "action" box on his resume.

Another Soderbergh trait is his willingness to gamble on unknown actors in lead roles, even though he has names like George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon on speed dial.

He's filmed an entire movie ("Bubble") featuring unknowns from the tiny Ohio town in which it was shot, and he has gambled on a porn actress to carry the weight of a drama ("The Girlfriend Experience").

"Haywire" features a number of notable names (Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton, Michael Douglas), but he hands the film over to newcomer Gina Carano, a mixed martial artist whose prior "acting" experience was showcased on "American Gladiators." Athletes making a successful leap to the big screen are few. For every Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, there are a dozen Shaquille O'Neals, Brian Bosworths and Kurt Thomases (one word: Gymkata!). But Soderbergh has found a muse in Carano. Granted, she's a muse of nut-cracking, head-butting fury, but a muse nonetheless.

Not only does she give authenticity to her role in a field of female-driven action films of late ("Salt," "Colombiana," "Underworld," "Resident Evil"), she manages to also establish a genuinely charismatic screen presence that holds the promise of a future outside the ring.

Carano plays Mallory Kane, a former military gal who is now employed by a secretive security firm that works on the fringe government jobs that are a tad too nasty to be sanctioned by the Feds. After a harrowing tour in Barcelona, Mallory is called by her boss (McGregor) to get glam for a British Intelligence officer (played by Michael Fassbender) while he is on assignment.

The job seems almost too easy, and she correctly gets a sinking feeling that she is being set up. We then jump back and forth chronologically as Mallory attempts to find out why she was targeted and who gave the order.

The film takes an unorthodox approach to the standard genre pic, glazing action with an art-house aesthetic (and another amazing jazz-heavy score that has become common in Soderbergh films), topped off by a lead who's striking in every sense of the word.

It's a film that can satisfy the common cinematic adrenaline junkie, but won't insult the intelligence of more substance-seeking movie patrons. And with Carano as the assassin, you can almost feel better for the bad guys being taken out, knowing hers is the last face they'll see. One of the characters in the film exclaims, "Don't think of her as a woman. That would be a mistake." True words, indeed, but with her charisma, that is one tough directive.