Monday, December 24, 2012

Haywire

Directed by Steven Soderbergh.
2012. Rated R, 93 minutes.
Cast:
Gina Carano
Ewan McGregor

Bill Paxton
Michael Angarano


Something went seriously wrong in Barcelona. This is why covert agent Mallory Kane (Carano) finds herself sitting in a diner refusing to go with Aaron (Tatum) who has been sent to retrieve her. Within a few moments, the two wind up in a knock-down, drag-out fight in full view of everyone in this dive. Escaping this little scrape with her life, she commandeers one of the restaurant patrons, with him along for the ride, of course. Since Aaron is still alive, this means they will soon be chased by him and many others. In the meantime, Mallory fills us in, and inexplicably the civilian also, on what happened in Barcelona to get us to this point.

Haywire is a bit of a throwback spy flick. There is a good deal of action. Most of the dialogue is merely characters plotting that action. It has a cerebral feel to it, aided by a decided lack of pyrotechnics. Disappointing for some of you, I’m sure, but this is not an “everything goes boom” movie. This is more of an action flick for the art house crowd. Yes, there are car chases, including an amazing shot of a deer being hit (sorry PETA), and we get gunfire. However, the most mileage is gained from some intense hand-to-hand combat. Therefore, it’s fitting that our star, Carano, is a real life Mixed Martial Arts fighter. Many of the skills she displays in the octagon are shown here. Unlike other female action stars she’s not waifish or dainty. She’s certainly a beauty, but a much more solidly built one. This adds realism. The men she faces off with aren’t that much bigger than her so we believe they really would have their hands full with her. She effortlessly handles the athletic portions of her role.


As expected, Carano struggles with the acting part of her duties. This is her first leading role and only her third acting gig of any sort, discounting her time as “Crush” on the series re-boot of American Gladiator. Her line deliveries range from flat to even flatter. She gives me an even greater appreciation than I already had for comedian Steven Wright and the fantastically dry Ben Stein. They elevate the monotone, emotionless speech pattern into an artform. Carano’s performance clearly shows it is an affliction. Her near-complete lack of facial expressions during any scene not involving a beat down doesn’t help.

Still, Carano has a strong presence. She’s one of those people who impresses by subtly striking poses. You have to see the things she does during dialogue heavy scenes to understand. If it helps, think of Marilyn Monroe. In her movies, Marilyn didn’t move naturally so much as she shifted from one seductive stance to the next. Obviously, the muscled Carano is in a totally different vein but you get the idea. If not, like I said, you have to see it.

With all of this in mind, I have to believe the real star is director Steven Soderbergh. First, he plays up his leading lady’s physicality enough to de-emphasize her acting without being sleazy, or at least seeming so. He surrounds her with an excellent supporting cast and gets excellent work from them. Most notably, we get the goods from Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender, Bill Paxton and a thick gray-bearded Antonio Banderas. He gives us some great visuals, to boot. He also makes perfect use of a very funky retro score, adding to that throwback feel I alluded to. Perfect use means he knows when to shut it off, adding a welcome grittiness to his fight scenes. During most of these, the sounds of struggle provide all the music needed. Even better the camera is kept still and at proper distance to see his star in action. It’s the best part of her performance and is highlighted as such. Soderbergh has always been sort of a magician. Here, he pulls every card from his sleeve, every rabbit from his hat, and nearly gets to the end of his endless line of scarves to overcome his star’s weak portrayal.

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