Director Steven Soderbergh is no stranger to experimental filmmaking, starting with his revolutionary debut indie Sex, Lies, and Videotape. Full Frontal was a $2 million movie with loads of A-list talent, Bubble pioneered the multi-platform release prevalent in today's indie scene, and The Girlfriend Experiment starred adult film actress Sasha Grey in her non-XXX debut. Soderbergh returns to his experimental roots in fascinating ways with Haywire, a stylish, super-charged, and (gasp) smart action movie.
While there is a unique element in that Haywire is Steven Soderbergh's first true action movie, the nucleus of this experiment is Gina Carano, a mixed martial arts fighter who also starred in NBC's 2008 version of American Gladiators as Crush. She had only appeared in one other movie before, 2009's Blood and Bone, which is set in the MMA fighting world. After Soderbergh watched some of Carano's fights, he quite simply decided to build a movie around her. Haywire indeed does center on Gina Carano as Mallory Kane, a highly-trained assassin who works for some sort of hitman private contracting company. When she decides to call it quits, it sets in motion a chain of events - mainly told through flashbacks while she's on the lam with a young bystander (Michael Angarano) - involving a number of different colleagues and enemies, none of whom we're ever sure she can trust.
Lem Dobbs, whose last movie was the 2001 underrated heist drama The Score, does a fine job of setting up the foundation of a solid action film, minus the tawdry, cliched dialogue that seems to come part and parcel with such a movie. However, the main problems with this movie lie within the screenplay, with a story that isn't incredibly easy to follow. I can appreciate the red herrings thrown in here, which reinforces the ongoing theme that Mallory simply can't trust anyone, which sets up the notion that a fight can break out in any second. It almost feels like a device borrowed from an effective horror movie, where you're not quite sure when the next big scare is about to happen. I see the appeal in that, but still, when we get towards the end, and get to the true motivation of why Mallory was double-crossed, Dobbs seems to take a few extra, unneeded steps. It's almost too bad I had these problems with the script, because it doesn't have the kind of dumbed-down, cock-rock tone we're so used to in any garden-variety action movie, where cleavage, explosions, and cheap laughs normally outweigh the need for any sort of intelligence. Lem Dobbs did write a smart action script for Haywire, but it almost seems he did too good of a job.
All that aside, even though this isn't your average action movie, it's still a damn good action movie, and viewers won't be drawn to sharp screenwriting. They'll be drawn to the ass-kicking Gina Carano, who delivers in some jaw-dropping, bone-crunching fight scenes, and more than holds her own opposite a star-studded supporting cast including Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, and Bill Paxton. At the post-screening Q&A, Soderbergh mentioned actor Steven Seagal, who was plucked from obscurity in 1988's Above the Law, the aikido instructor's first ever feature film which launched his acting career. After watching Gina Carano in Haywire, I have to imagine a similar trajectory is in store for her. She even has the added advantage of being easy on the eyes, along with the ability to do all her own fight scenes in ways we haven't seen before.
Not only are Carano's fights truly remarkable, but Soderbergh captures them in unconventional and compelling ways. For a director who has never filmed such a true action movie before, Soderbergh makes it look like he's been doing this for years, while finding new and intriguing ways to put fights on film. What's more, the action sequences are enhanced even more by what seems like an added emphasis on the foley work, with the fight sounds more crispy and crunchy than usual. The cherry on top of this action extravaganza is the score by Soderbergh mainstay David Holmes, who composed the scores for Out of Sight and Ocean's 11-13. The score almost feels like a sequel to his Out of Sight score, so drastically similar in many ways, but crafted towards this new action-drama.
Haywire is a ballsy and brash action drama that introduces us not only to a new action star in Gina Carano, but also to a way of making an action movie where brains and brawn can actually coexist.