Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum
Rated: R for some violence
There’s a lot to like in Steven Soderbergh’s new film, “Haywire,” but there’s a lot that doesn’t quite come together. The director is reportedly planning to take a sabbatical once his currently in-progress films are wrapped, to get a fresh start, and it’s easy to interpret the uneven pacing and cinematography in “Haywire” as him reaching for something fresh. The film is still enjoyable, particularly during the fight scenes.
Mallory Kane (MMA fighter Gina Carano) is a secret agent with a private firm run by Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), who hires her out to clients like the US Government. When the person she rescued in a covert mission turns up dead and an agent she was supposed to partner with tries to kill her, she sets out to discover who crossed her and why — and to get revenge.
Carano has a lot of natural talent — her experience with competitive mixed martial arts is put to good use in the fight scenes, which ring very true since we can tell she’s the one doing them. It’s refreshing to see an action heroine who obviously actually knows how to down someone with a roundhouse kick, block a punch, and so on. Carano is visibly in top form, and after seeing this, it’ll be hard to go back to watching regular Hollywood actresses pretending they can knock someone out with their dainty fists. Carano is both beautiful and a very fit martial artist, and here’s hoping she leads a new wave of action heroines.
Her acting is solid too, which is nice. Unfortunately, Soderbergh made the choice to digitally alter her voice in post-production, to deepen it and make it different from her regular voice, apparently to make her more obviously different from her public persona in the MMA world. It’s a pity, because nobody else in the movie has that smooth, digitally-altered sound, and it makes her seem a little off. Carano has said in interviews that she doesn’t mind, but it’s a disservice to the viewers, who are essentially asked to accept an autotuned main character surrounded by a naturally-voiced cast.
The supporting cast is solid, with Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton, Michael Fassbender, and Channing Tatum joining McGregor and Douglas. Under Soderbergh’s capable direction, they all turn in fine performances. Tatum doesn’t have the same ease on screen that the others do, but it isn’t a problem.
What is a problem, however, is Soderbergh’s all-over-the-place cinematography. There’s no consistent color palette, shooting style, or visual vocabulary. Even for folks who aren’t sensitive to that kind of cinematic detailing, the feeling of inconsistency is hard to escape. The pacing is weird, too, and not in that refreshing indie-flick way. Soderbergh is a seasoned filmmaker, so there’s no real excuse for it. It feels like a decent first feature from a debut director, not the latest from a person with over 30 films under his belt.
Overall, “Haywire” isn’t bad, it’s just not as awesome as it could be. Still, if you like to see female action heroes, don’t miss it. If you want a top-notch action flick, it will likely disappoint.