Haywire Review

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Double-crossed during a job in Dublin, black ops agent Mallory (Carano) kicks and punches her way to the top of a global espionage agency in search of answers. It’s payback time, and she doesn’t do dresses...


So, the story goes that Steven Soderbergh hit on the idea for Haywire while he was loafing in front of some Saturday night telly. Starting up on CBS was a female-only ultimate fighting gala. Up stepped the formidable Gina Carano. It was, for Soderbergh, love at first strike, but the question he asked was this: “How come Angelina Jolie’s the only woman allowed to run around with a gun and beat people up?” Haywire is his answer, and Jolie better renew her gym membership.

Similar to his casting of adult star Sasha Grey for The Girlfriend Experience, Soderbergh has tailor-made an entire movie around an untested talent. Almost inevitably, Carano makes up for in presence what she lacks in range — her line delivery remains cold and curt throughout — but Soderbergh’s surrounded her with so much star wattage, if you put them all in a room they’d probably vaporise each other. McGregor, Fassbender, Douglas, Tatum, Paxton, Banderas, Kassovitz... It’s almost like a thinking man’s Expendables, and part of the film’s fun is watching the A list go B movie with a Z-list lead. And they all, eventually, have fear in their eyes — even Bill Paxton, as Carano’s dad. “Don’t think of her as being a woman,” advises Ewan McGregor, who registers strongly as a slippery agent. “That would be a mistake.”

Indeed. With her nutcracker thighs, bolting fists and suspicious eyes, Carano gives some deliberately orthodox payback material a raw, volatile edge. As she tumbles from Barcelona to New York to Dublin, a tension follows wherever she goes, as if a brawl could kick off at any moment. And when it does, it’s rough-and-tumble realism, Bourne-style, and so well choreographed you don’t notice they’re choreographed. Carano’s nickname in the ring is ‘Conviction’ and you soon get why — when she fights, you feel the walls shake. Dynamic though the action is, what the film never quite achieves (and so often promises) is that thumping heart-rate moment. It’s just a little too cool to get your blood rushing.

Still, for anybody who follows Soderbergh, this has a familiar feel — there’s a nimble time-tripping structure, his signature gold and cobalt visuals, a driving funk-fusion jam from composer of choice David Holmes and sinuous camerawork from the mysterious Peter Andrews, who’s never once been seen in the same room as Soderbergh. Who, by the way, has clearly had a good old dry laugh over making his first action movie. Rooftop escapes, car chases in reverse gear, a hostage rescue set to music and, typical of Soderbergh, a deadly master of international espionage called, er, Kenneth. Needless to say, great fun.

A fresh, muscular payback movie shot through with Soderbergh’s mischievous indie-spirit. Whether Gina Carano is the new Angelina or the new Cynthia Rothrock, only time will tell...