Dir. Steven Soderbergh, USA, 2011, 93 mins
Review by Mark Byrnes
Following his recent decision to take a sabbatical from the film business, director Steven Soderbergh is showing no signs of going quietly. Here is yet another feature following on from last year’s star-laden contamination thriller, Contagion. For his latest film, Haywire, he offers a feminised take on that most masculine of genres, the espionage thriller.
Following the successful extraction of a Chinese dissident held inBarcelona, covert ops specialist Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is persuaded by her C.I.A. handler and lover Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) to take on a routine job inDublin, partnering with Irish agent Paul (Michael Fassbender). Kane soon discovers that she has been double crossed and framed for the murder of the hostage she had just rescued. Narrowly avoiding an assassination attempt, Kane fleesDublinpursued by the authorities as well as her former colleagues. With the help of her father (Bill Paxton), a retired soldier, and a senator (Michael Douglas) Kane resolves to uncover who has set her up and wants her dead.
Soderbergh here gives his own take on the spy film, with his personal favourite, From Russia with Love, serving as his point of departure. However, he delivers something more than a mere Bond carbon copy, eschewing the high-tech paraphernalia and international globe-trotting glamour usually found in this milieu. The film quickly establishes that the heroine is every bit the physical equal of Daniel Craig with a brutal opening fight in a roadside diner. What follows is an extended series of bone-crunching, but nevertheless realistic action scenes peppered with flashbacks that fill in the narrative gaps.
Haywire is clearly tailored to the (physical) strengths of Gina Carano, a former mixed martial artist, who delivers a performance that echoes her ringside moniker of ‘Conviction’. There is something almost quaintly satisfying in witnessing Carano, bulldoze her way past the likes of actor du jour Michael Fassbender and Hollywood’s current sensitive beefcake, Channing Tatum. Soderbergh was never going to elicit an Oscar worthy performance from his leading lady, and he sensibly reduces her dialogue to a minimum, allowing veterans Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas to show Carano what they do best. With a denouement and protagonist that nods to his last collaboration with Soderbergh (The Limey), Lem Dobbs offers a lean but nuanced script, which contrasts the murky behind the scenes political negotiations with the mayhem that takes place outside the corridors of powers.
Having moved comfortably between the mainstream and arthouse throughout his career, with this novel take on the spy thriller Soderbergh shows no signs of merely winding down. James Bond you have been warned.