Thursday, 26 January 2012


2011. Dir: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan MacGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum and Michael Douglas. ●●●○○

Imagine you're an international famous movie director, let's take Steven Soderbergh for example, and you're bored one afternoon, channel hoping distractedly waiting for Matt Damon to come over with some beer and you come across a female Mixed Martial Arts contest live on channel 179 and there on the screen is Gina Carano, a fighter perhaps best known for her stint on American Gladiators (she was crush). What would you then think? Well Steve thought that girl punching the hell out of the other girls has real skills, why not put her in a film and so Haywire was conceived.

To be fair this is not the first case of verite casting Soderbergh has indulged in, previously he launched the mainstream career of porn star Sasha Grey in the naturalistic and fascinating Girlfriend Experience, although I can't remember the casting story being quite as random. An Awareness of Carano's skills meant that Soderbergh could commission a script from The Limey scribe Lem Dobbs that simply propelled the character from fight to chase to fight showing off her considerable talents.

And be advised that is exactly what Haywire does.

Carano beats up Channing Tatum in a diner, courtesy of a little help from Michael Angarano (who has barely changed since "Will & Grace"), whom she then tells - thankfully using flashbacks - of the plot so far. You see it started in Barcelona where shady Government guy Michael Douglas and even shadier Spaniard Antonio Banderas hired Ewan McGregor and his freelance military taskforce (including Carano and Tatum) to rescue a kidnapped Chinese journalist which led to a massive chase through the streets for Carano just to knock out an unnamed goon. Then she's sent to Dublin to pretend to be the wife of MI6 agent Michael Fassbender who introduces her to more bearded Euro baddies then promptly tries to kill her then she runs and climbs through Dublin, outfoxing the Garda before ending up at the diner and getting into a snowbound car chase with Angarano and some local cops. Then there's the best bit of deer acting you'll see in 2011.

And breathe.

More people then get shot, there's a fight at Bill Paxton's house, a meeting in an abandoned aerodrome, another fight and Antonio Banderas gets a shave. Then the final credits roll.

Feel free to breathe again.

There is some connective plot involving everyone double crossing each other, and not everything in Barcelona or Dublin was quite what it seemed, but ultimately that doesn't matter ("It's always about money." as McGregor states in the trailer). Nor does it matter that Carano gives a performance that's dead behind the eyes, after all acting isn't really why she was hired and most of the heavy work is given to her co-stars, including a very impressive supporting turn by Paxton as her father, his thoughts projected plainly as he watches his daughter at work with a mix of fatherly pride and understandable shock.

How then does it work as a vehicle to showcase Carano fighting skills? The answer is surprisingly well. The melee in the diner, most of which is in the trailer, is perhaps forgettable but the chase in Barcelona, with Carano gaining on her quarry over 3-4 minutes shows her determination, commitment and fitness. You actually believe in these scenes that she could do this and take the guy out - I expect that's because she could. There's no wire work no stunts, the fights seem exceptionally real and Carano can clearly take care of herself, putting the usual action heroines (Anjelina, Milla) to shame.

The action scenes are also surprisingly interesting, the hotel set face off with Michael Fassbender (no spoiler it's in the trailer) is frantic and brutal, with the usual cliche's of broken glass shelves and smashing through doors incorporated well into the choreography. The final fight at a beach (I won't divulge who it's with) is also exceptionally well shot and edited together with each punch or kick bringing in a new shot at a more fascinating angle, providing the viewer with a 360 degree idea of the surroundings of the tense battle. We even get a chance to see her vulnerability, whilst climbing buildings through Dublin, Carano falls about 5 foot and it clearly hurts, winding her character and forcing her to rethink her strategy, being small rather than fast.

It's a great section of action scenes that really remind us of how punch-ups should work in cinema, there's always a understanding of the effort and geography of the battle, something which many of the more seasoned action director need to sit back and remind themselves of.

That said the utter lack of sensible plot or characterisation makes it very difficult to fully recommend this movie. Probably not worth the trip to the cinema, but if you ever tune in on a Friday night you will be drawn into the action and have to watch it until the end.

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