Haywire

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan MacGregor, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas
Review: 3 stars (of five)

Steven Soderbergh is one of the best directors working today. Haywire is an arthouse thriller that mixes a thoughtful, cutting-edge style with violence and conspiracy to produce a cocktail that packs a punch but lacks real story value.

Mixed-martial-arts star Gina Carano has her first real acting gig as Mallory Kane, a defense contractor specializing in … well, mayhem, essentially. She’s a spy/commando for hire. The part calls on her to use a lot of her MMA skills, and she excels. She’s the first female action star I can think of who’s both attractive and believable as a tough guy—because she really is a tough guy. Her acting is likely to be criticized as wooden, a bit lifeless, but that would be unfair. Lem Dobbs’ script gives her (and the rest of the very fine cast) almost nothing to actually do, so if the performance Carano (and everyone else) delivers fails to satisfy, it’s because there wasn’t enough on the page.

The story starts with a wary Carano on the run, showing up in a rural coffee shop with bruises. Someone she knows arrives, and they have a conversation that makes no sense to the viewer, and then there is violence. Quick, well-choreographed and particularly savage violence. Then Carano is on the run again, and flashbacks fill in what has happened in her recent past without really explaining very clearly what it means or why she’s in the position she’s in.

The film spans two continents, with sequences set in upstate New York, Barcelona, Dublin, San Diego, Washington, D.C., and San Diego. Ill-explained plot points lead from one surprising fight sequence to another, and very nearly achieve a highly competent monotony by never really making us care about the characters as people. In that regard, then, it’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol done $120 million cheaper.

Eventually, the outline of a coherent plot is sketched, although a number of fine details are either left out or covered too briefly. It’s not a film you watch for story or character. You watch it for action and style. Carano is a skilled professional in a violent world, and she is on the run. Also, she kills people with her thighs. If you want anything more in terms of plot or character development, anything at all, you will be sorely disappointed.

For my money, any Soderbergh film is worth watching. Haywire is a film for fans of The Limey, also written by Dodds. Weigh how much you liked The American and Steve McQueen’s Bullet, too. I’d argue that this film doesn’t quite measure up to any of those (and not measuring up to Bullet is hardly proof of failure), but if those flavors appeal, then you’ll probably enjoy Haywire despite its story shortcomings.