When Steven Soderbergh strays into genre fare, it’s always interesting to watch, because he brings his sensibilities into those films. The plot of HAYWIRE, on paper, could probably fit on a postage stamp. Soderbergh’s done revenge stories before, such as THE LIMEY (which was written by Lem Dobbs, who also wrote HAYWIRE), and while the plot seems fairly routine, the execution by both Soderbergh and the script are anything but. In HAYWIRE’s case, the result is a tight action thriller that showcases a performance from Gina Carano that might be hesitant in the quieter moments, but is extremely confident in the action sequences.
We’re introduced to Mallory Kane (Carano) outside a diner in upstate New York – she waits outside, unsure of how to proceed, but she decides to risk it and goes in. Carano has a look about her that’s disarming and sweet, which makes what happens next all the more stunning as she takes down a former fling who shows up to take her in (Channing Tatum). Next thing we realize, Kane is on the run with a flustered kid from the diner (Michael Angarano) who tried to help her out, and as she tells her story, we go into flashback to learn just why a secret organization is going after Mallory. Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), the head of the organization, wants to tie up some loose ends from a job in Spain that on the surface was a success, but didn’t go as planned, and Mallory is one of those loose ends.
The rest of the film is Mallory getting her revenge on those that set her up and Soderbergh styles up the proceedings far more than any routine director would have done with the material. HAYWIRE is always interesting to watch – the fights aren’t pumped up for effect, but instead feel very real-world and genuine. Soderbergh has surrounded Carano with heavyweight actors like McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton, and Michael Fassbender, so any awkwardness from Carano’s performance is quickly smoothed over by the other performers. Carano does have that elusive something that movie stars have – even when she is simply outacted by her co-stars, you can’t seem to take your eyes off her.
Soderbergh does action quite well – there’s no build-up, no hyperstylized direction, just simple filmmaking done with directness and skill. Each punch isn’t accentuated by a large boom on the soundtrack – you get the idea that if you came across these people fighting on the street it would look and sound exactly like this. HAYWIRE reminded me of DRIVE quite a bit – while the substance of the film has been done many times before, it’s Soderbergh’s style that wins you over and makes the film worth your while. I love how Soderbergh shoots foreign locales – they feel real as opposed to touristy. If the plot twists are confusing, everything sorts itself out nicely as the movie progresses; the characters talk in a droll banter that disguises the weight of the subject matter. Much like TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, the bureaucratic jabber hides the fact that these are ruthless people who will stop at nothing to bring Mallory down. The only man she can fully trust is her father (Bill Paxton) who taught her how to take care of herself, and a sequence at his house is thrilling and exciting.
There’s always something distancing about Steven Soderbergh’s work for me. I can never quite put my finger on it – my favorite film of his, KING OF THE HILL, is the exception – but whenever I see his movies I feel more like I’m outside the door looking in than I’m invited into the living room, if that makes any sense. HAYWIRE isn’t different in that regard – the style of the film may put some people off, but it’s worth it to see Soderbergh play outside his safety zone. He’s always interesting, and while I’m not head-over-heels in love with HAYWIRE, I admire it quite a bit.