Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Haywire (2012) – Review

Review: Haywire is both a modern and throwback action film. The film centers on Mallory a burned spy who wants revenge on her employers. Director Steven Soderbergh seems to want to make a retro spy thriller with this film, and yet still have the action and physicality of something comparable to the Paul Greengrass Jason Bourne films. The result is a film that is entertaining with very good action set pieces that take full of the film’s star Gina Carano and her MMA background but is also paced oddly with long backstory/exposition scenes that seem to drag awfully, especially when played against the frantic, highly kinetic action. To an extent, it seems as if Soderbergh is in love with the physicality of his star, building everything around her ability to show off what she can do – fighting, jumping, running, climbing, and so on. But, her character is maybe the weakest in the film, as she shows little emotion and does not give enough of herself to the audience (be it through lack of skill, directing or writing). Thus, the audience does not connect and the film is merely spectacle, which only makes the slower moments negatively affect the film even more. Also with many action films being structured to always be moving forward, the pace at which many of the film’s moments play at seem by comparison to be static. Not to say that change is not good – many spy films are slow building pieces that encompass great action scenes but usually they are built around their characters and not the action as this is. Soderbergh has a bit of a confliction. He wants to make it sort of in the 1970s style, which is especially apparent in the music and tone, but have it also work as a modern action film (which to say is not something that is impossible, but this feels more like a test run on the idea than the idea being mastered). In many ways it is comparable to last year’s Drive, a film that was paced very to be slow but had moments of intense hyper violence. However, Drive works because it has wonderful fleshed out characters, while this does not (even though this has a lot more action). There is a lot to really like about Haywire – the action is fantastic, the acting from the supporting cast is very good, the style is cool and interesting – but it just does not quite come together completely.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Steven Soderbergh should be complimented for trying something different in a genre that is plagued with film after film that are essentially the same, regardless of whether Haywire completely worked or not. I would like to see him return to the genre again in the future. He also served as the cinematographer and editor on the film. It is very well shot and its photography is one of its best aspects. Soderbergh lets the action play out, not using a ton of cuts, which again showcases Carano’s fighting talent much in the same way Asian-made martial arts films do for their stars. David Holmes provides a great retro-sounding score to the film that sets the tone very well (here is an example). Howard Cummings’s production design is also good, especially in the locations that he uses. The cast overall is good. Gina Carano works a bit like a blunt force weapon in the film. She is all fight and not much else, but with a few more roles under her belt I can see her becoming a good action star. Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas are both their usual selves (which is a good thing), while Ewan McGregor plays off type (and while he is good in the film, I am not sure he was physically right for the role). Channing Tatum is probably the most unexpected member of the cast performance wise, as he is very good. And, of course, Michael Fassbender is brilliant in his supporting role – sly and sort of weaselly.

Summary & score: As far as action films go, this is a good one, but Haywire is not quite among the genre’s best. 7/10

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