Wednesday, 18 January 2012

'Haywire' review:

With the most perfunctory of plots and a pleasingly slender running time, Steven Soderbergh's action-thriller 'Haywire' feels like little more than a slight, if effective, vehicle for its authentic female action star. Gina Carano - a former champion mixed martial artist in her first major film role - gets to beat up a lot of people and looks great doing so, wiping the floor with the likes of Michael Fassbender and Channing Tatum in a series of brutal, brilliantly choreographed punch-ups.

She plays Mallory, a contract killer working for a private firm (headed up by Ewen McGregor) who handles contracts for a secretive US government agency (headed up by Michael Douglas). Bill Paxton plays her father - a writer of trashy thriller novels, Antonio Banderas is a shady, Spanish antagonist and Michael Angarano is some average guy she steals a car from/speaks exposition at during a terrific driving sequence which ends unexpectedly.

After a routine assignment, Mallory finds herself framed by the agency without much of an idea why. Like Jason Bourne before her, she spends the film travelling around world cities (Barcelona, Dublin, San Diego) in an attempt to uncover the conspiracy and get revenge on those who betrayed her. Unlike the Bourne films there isn't a lot of character work going on here, with a half-dozen stars given very little screentime, but the action scenes are so far ahead of the curve (and the film so brief) that it would seem a little churlish to complain.

In what seems like a direct challenge to the modern action movie, Soderbergh shoots his hyper-realistic fight scenes with an unfashionably immobile camera - give or take a few lengthy tracking shots. He allows action to unfold within the frame for long spells, giving us an unobstructed view. This decision is no doubt influenced by the fact that he's not having to play tricks in the edit to convince us that Carano can kick ass: she really can and we're allowed to see that.

The choice of a non-actor in the lead is reminiscent of the decision to cast top porn star Sasha Grey as the lead in 'The Girlfriend Experience' - Soderbergh's film about a highly paid sex industry worker. Both represent a bold gambit, especially seeing as how the rest of the cast (along with that of last year's ensemble hit 'Contagion', not to mention the 'Ocean's Eleven' series) confirm Soderbergh's ability to draw from Hollywood's A-list - but in this instance it's vindicated without a doubt.

As well as the fighting, the use of various inner-city locations is also eye-catching. They are all shot in a recognisable and spatially consistent way which feels bracingly ordinary. For instance Mallory escapes pursuers by running through the back of a Burger King, emerging in front of an HMV, during her jaunt through Dublin town centre, ultimately escaping by taxi. Soderbergh creates a very realistic world - one in which Mallory picks up bruises in fights and is winded after falling on her back. This only heightens the excitement and (illusion of) authenticity throughout.

'Haywire' is rated '15' and out now in the UK.

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