Haywire (2012): Soderbergh’s Unabashed B-Movie, Starring Gina Carano

An action star that’s highly photogenic and extremely kinetic is born in Haywire, Soderbergh’s B-level spy thriller: Martial arts champion Gina Carano.


Remember her name, for she is not only beautiful and quick with her hands, legs, and feet, but also can give a run for their money to both Angelina Jolie (“Salt”) and Uma Thurman (Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” films)

World premiering as a surprise presentation at the 2011 AFI Festival, in November, “Haywire” will be released by Relativity on January 20. Young aficionados should embrace this non-stop actioner, which packs quite a wallop in its running time of 92 minutes.

Soderbergh claims that he’s a fan of the early James Bond pictures, especially “From Russia With Love” (which is also my fave Bond), but there is not much in “Haywire” to suggest the old-fashioned fun derived from that 1960s Bond flick.

Nominally, “Haywire” is a globe-trotting spy thriller, with some gripping plot and relatable characters, but in actuality, the tale unfold as a series of highly enjoyable, ultra-dynamic action pieces, particularly one set in Barcelona (more about it later).

Soderbergh is nothing if not an efficient and versatile director. If my count is correct, “Haywire” is his 25th feature in an up-and-down career spanning slightly over two decades, marked by a stunning debut, “sex, lies and videotape,” in 1989.

Who’s Soderbergh’s role model? Studio filmmakers like Howard Hawks? Raul Walsh? He is obviously concerned with creating a solid body of work, based on variety of genres (though he has not made a musical yet). By now, Soderbergh has made twice as many films as Stanley Kubrick (only 13 in four decades), though none as brilliant as those of the late director, and three times as many as those by two of his talented contemporaries, Tarantino and David Fincher (who are exactly his age).

Showing loyalty to former collaborator, Soderbergh is working from a slender script (sort of a minimal skeleton to hold together the set-pieces) by Lem Dobbs, who had scripted his second feature, “Kafka,” in 1991 (sort of a sophomore jinx), and the better received “The Limey,” in 1997.

Contesting gender roles and challenging sexual politics, the protagonist is a female covert operator named Mallory Kane, though many of the film’s characters don’t know that she is woman and thus make erroneous assumptions about her persona, identity—and skills.

Formulaic to a fault, “Haywire’ is based on the dual notions of trust and betrayal. Kane goes rogue when she realizes that practically every person she has trusted has double-crossed her, putting her existence in life-threatening jeopardy.

In the course of the story, this highly-trained operative working for a government security contractor in the world’s most dangerous corners, frees a Chinese journalist held hostage in Barcelona, only to discover that the man had been murdered. Using Hitchcock’s favorite premise of the innocent man wrongly accused of murder, crucial evidence points in the direction of Kane as the main suspect.

Once she becomes the target of skilled assassins who know all of her tricks (Or do they?), Kane realizes that someone deep inside has betrayed her. But who? And why her now?

On the run, Kane executes some daring maneuvers to throw the local SWAT team off her trail, only to find herself pursued by deadlier forces. Crossing international borders, she eludes a powerful web of law enforcement and private operatives until she finds herself left with few options.

Desperate to clear her name and reveal the real traitor, Kane uses her black-ops military training to devise an ingenious trap. However, when things go haywire, Mallory fears she will be killed unless she finds a way to turn the tables on her ruthless adversary.

The film boasts a terrific secondary male cast, composed of both young and vet actors, including Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, and Bill Paxton.

In one of the film’s highlights, Michael Fassbender conducts a brutal, hand-to-hand fight scene with the ass-kicking Carano, smashing every object in sight, vases, couches—each other.

The versatile Ewan McGregor, who plays Mallory’s boss and erstwhile lover, Kenneth, nails the part in just a few scenes.  In his first scene, in Spain, he and Carano are walking and talking down some stairs, revealing gorgeous cityscape behind us.

The handsome Channing Tatum plays Aaron, a man who in the tale’s beginning is a member of Mallory’s Barcelona team—and her casual lover—and later becomes her opponent.

Michael Douglas, the only cast member with whom Soderbergh had worked previously (on the Oscar-winner “Traffic”), is cast as Coblenz

The role of Rodrigo, a Spanish government official involved in setting up the Barcelona deal with Kenneth and Coblenz, is inhabited by Antonio Banderas.

It’s hard to tell how good an actress Carano is—or will become—but in this picture, it doesn’t matter, as she renders a naturalistic, unpretentious and charming performance, one which is not guided by an acting coach (per Soderbergh’s instructions).

Truly a globe-trotting espionage, “Haywire” benefits greatly from its excellent location shottings.   Kane’s journey takes her across the globe, from Washington, D.C., to Barcelona and Dublin, then back to the United States, with stops in upstate New York and the mountains of New Mexico.