Call it the ABCs of BDC aka Beat Down Central. The women in Steven Soderbergh’s films over the last two decades are hardly wallflowers. The fairer sex — Laura San Giacomo, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Roberts, Ellen Barkin, the lady in “Bubble”, etc. — all fearlessly verbalized or stood potently on their own terms. In “Haywire”, an action-drama that opened today in several theaters today in San Francisco, martial arts champion Gina Carano abates the trend somewhat: by speaking softly and carrying a big kick.
Ms. Carano is Mallory, a shadow operative in an all-male orchestrated under-the-table government operation gone wrong. She’s first in upstate New York in a film that jumps out of sequence in flashbacks, with a mousy, innocent bystander of a man (Michael Angarano) who sees a quiet diner suddenly explode into violence, which sets the tone for the cool, soothing yet shotgun manner of Mr. Soderbergh’s film, efficiently written by his “Limey” screenwriter Lem Dobbs.
Mallory picks up the pieces to plot her path to vengeance and we see the isolation of each suspicious or mysterious act that got her into her current predicament, not once, but often from two or three different perspectives. We piece together a jigsaw puzzle of betrayal, and a rather entertaining one, with good work in particular from Antonio Banderas and Ms. Carano. “Haywire” is always moving in time with the audience even if we don’t have all the information Mallory has at any given moment.
“Haywire” is fueled exclusively by the sleek, feline though muscular Ms. Carano, a one-time American Gladiator whose first real acting on film here is casual and not at all bad. She packs a sexy wallop, singlehandedly bringing allure, charm and physical appeal as accoutrements to her character’s razor-sharp intelligence and ability to adapt quickly. The director’s camera works close in on the principals, effectuating an intimate chronicle of memory and events that shape and articulate the blunt revenge Mallory seeks. There’s an air of the unexpected, a type of I-went-to-a-fight-and-a-hockey-game-broke-out fervor that carries through from start to finish in “Haywire”, and you wait for that chaos to arise in what is at times a tense and suspenseful drama.
In the most serious of films (see “Contagion”) Mr. Soderbergh displays his sly sense of humor. His heroine in “Haywire” is the source of most of it, mocking one man whose car she has destroyed, as if both delighting and pitying the demise of a man’s toy. As in last year’s “Contagion”, “Haywire” jet-sets to locations around the world: Mallorca, Washington D.C., San Diego and many others, all given a distinct feel. Space and proximity are often a factor in contouring the parameters of the heroine’s survival, and Mallory makes the most of every space and each movement when placed in a tight situation. She improvises — usually seamlessly. Mr. Soderbergh makes assumptions about neither his protagonists nor their obstacles, letting the camera he operates sit and watch what it captures as opposed to tipping its hand too much cinematically.
The director’s avenger is no angel or waif. Mallory is tough, fierce and exacting, while remaining a lady. She’d have David Fincher’s Lizbeth Salander for breakfast and Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft for dinner. As it is, Mallory’s metaphorical lunch hour — which is just a little shorter than “Haywire” — is spent dining on fight feasts full of A-list male actors. Michael Douglas plays a wise, wary governmental father-figure to her (Bill Paxton plays Mallory’s real dad) as Mallory racks up takedowns of men in tight spaces and in powerful, violent bursts. The film’s realistic fight choreography mixes sexuality and ferocity in a balletic way. Mallory devastates her male competition and when a killing occurs, is on the run for her very life.
“Haywire” is about the human dominoes that fall and the male domination that wilts when a woman has been wronged. The dominoes sometimes fall the wrong way, but they always fall when the renegade Mallory wants them to. That’s power, and admittedly it’s fun to see a woman beat up a man on the big screen, not for masochistic reasons but purely because outside of films like “La Femme Nikita” and “G.I. Jane” in the last 20 years or so, such beatings haven’t been seen much on film.
Those boys who think they can get away with the dangerous games they play on women better look over their shoulder. Mallory plays chess, physically and mentally, and like many of her sex, is always six moves ahead of the smartest man in whichever town or situation she finds herself in.
–At area theaters in San Francisco
With: Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Julian Alcaraz.
“Haywire” is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for some violence. The film’s running time is one hour and 33 minutes.
Original review here
For more of Omar’s film stories, movie reviews and interviews visit his Popcorn Reel website and watch his unscripted film reviews on YouTube. Follow him on Twitter.
For a list of Omar’s modenook.com stories and film reviews, click here. He is a contributing film critic for “Ebert Presents At The Movies” on PBS television and also a far flung correspondent for the preeminent film critic Roger Ebert and a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.
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