film review: Haywire (2011)

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Haywire poster, Gina Carano, Michael FassbenderSteve Soderbergh continues his traipse through the genres with his latest offering, Haywire. This time he’s decided to make an action film.

I wish he hadn’t.

Haywire is a truly bizarre piece of film-making. It’s as though a rabid jazz fan decided to make an arthouse action flick. I don’t understand why this film happened. At all. I did not enjoy the experience of watching this experiment and I do not want to see one again.

Thing about the film is, it’s not that Soderbergh is a bad director. It’s like Contagion in that sense. It looks good, the acting is… acceptable. It’s just… not a good film. I have no doubt in my mind that Soderbergh has made the film he set out to make, I just don’t know why he made the choices that he made. At every turn there is, what I think is, a mistake.

I’ll start with the score. There are large swathes of the movie with no music at all, we’re just left with silence and the occasional burst of ambient noise. Which is fine. Except all at once this random, jazzy, elevator type music will start up. I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about this. The music neither takes it’s cue or gives a cue as to what’s happening on screen at any time. There is a long action sequence near the start where you hear nothing at all but this weird tinkling jazzy music – all kinds of, quite frankly, mad stuff, is going on on-screen and all we hear is… music. No shouting, no conversing, no effects at all. Why?

The cinematography was similarly strange. Vast parts of the movie look like they were shot in ambient light. To the extent that it’s hard to make people out from time to time, and I don’t mean because they were hiding in shadows. As a result there’s quite a dull palette on offer here – browns, greys, blacks and the occasional hint of blue. That’s pretty much it. It doesn’t make for an exciting watch.

Not quite the same but similar was the camera work itself. It’s not that it’s particularly shaky, a pet hate of mine. It’s that, at times – especially when Carano is running around – the camera is all over the place. Swooping over her head, swinging around a corner, poking her in the eye. Sometimes there’s a long shot, just for the craic it would seem. I don’t know what effect they were trying to achieve… It’s as though they’d heard somewhere that your camera should get involved in the action but they weren’t sure what it meant. It was just confusing.

And while we’re on the subject of confusing… the plot. I don’t want to give anything away but there really seemed to be a lot of convolution for convolutions sake. I’m actually still not entirely sure where we finished up on everyone. It doesn’t matter though. I don’t care and I don’t think they did either. This picture was about ass kicking. Which brings me on to…

… The script. I’d almost forgot the script. Easy thing to do since there wasn’t much of one. Most of the dialogue was functional. Generally it seemed to just serve to get Ms. Carano from one reason to kick someone’s ass to the next.

It was as though the whole thing was a pastiche of a ’70s action film, or worse still, a pastiche of a Quentin Tarantino pastiche of a ’70s film. Except for a scene where a camouflage faced Carano stares into a fire in the darkness, the light flickering on her face. That’s when I thought, maybe he’s going for the early ’80s?

It’s hard to find anything to like about this movie but I will say this one thing. Gina Carano sure can kick ass. Of course, being a professional MMA fighter, you’d hope she could. That element of the film was relatively satisfying. Compared to what you’d usually see in films, these fights looked very realistic. They weren’t a blur of fists and quick cut camera work, so that was nice. They also sounded realistic. I’m not sure if that was a good thing though, we’re used to the more snappy side of foley artistry for fist fighting so it sounded a bit deadened to my ears.

The rest of the surprisingly stellar cast were also good, Michael Douglas played his role with remarkable aplomb, considering he was only in it sparingly. Antonio Banderas, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender and even Channing Tatum got on board when they were needed. I also wanted to single out Bill Paxton as well, as her father. Nice to see him around, albeit briefly.

Oh, there’s also some amusement to be had from the fact that it’s filmed in Dublin. It’s kinda cool to see the streets you walk every day in a movie. Even if I throughly disliked the movie.

The fact is, friends, this isn’t the film that it could or should have been. I don’t know why Soderbergh decided to make it in this fasion, but I think that Carano actually has a chance at being an action hero. Unfortunately films like this aren’t going to do her massive favours. It’s not the worst film I’ve ever seen (which one friend of mine exclaimed after the screening) but it certainly looks like an early contender for one of the spots near the bottom… She gonna need something with a little more pizzazz to get the audience to notice her.

Around the time of Contagion, Soderbergh announced that he was planning to take some time out from film-making to work on his painting… Here’s hoping. Maybe he’ll come back fresh and reinvigored rather than churning out sad facsimiles of genre films.


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