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Review: Haywire (2012)

Haywire

Rating

Director
Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay
Lem Dobbs
Length
93 min.
Starring
Gina Carano, Michael Angarano, Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Ewan McGregor, Eddie J Fernandez, Maximino Arciniega, Michael Fassbender, Anthony Brandon Wong, Bill Paxton
MPAA Rating
R for some violence

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Review
Steven Soderbergh, in lieu of retiring as he suggested and persuing other artistic pursuits, has instead decided to keep going in the medium while experimenting with stylistically diverse films like Contagion, The Informant! and Magic Mike coming out later this year. With Haywire, his penchant for focusing on realism has created one of the more compelling spy thrillers in recent memory.

Longtime spy master James Bond and the more recent popular figure Jason Bourne are built on legendary archetypes of the suave, attractive toughened spies whose pursuits are drawn from the inspiration of pulp literature, focusing on music, special effects and boistrous sound mixes to sell their chaotic stories. Soderbergh's Haywire may be of the same brand in terms of plotting and structure, but the barebones sound mix gives it a new sheen that makes the Bourne films sound exotic. Apart from the naturalistic aural cues throughout the film, including some rather gut-twisting fight sequences, its spy star is a woman, something not often seen in the world of espionage thrillers.

Mallory Kane, played by pro wrestler Gina Carano, is a work-hardened, dedicated spy whose career seems destined for destruction. She's all business all the time, except in the one-time romantic entanglement she pursues with an attractive co-worker played by Channing Tatum. Tatum gives the audience a glimmer of his capabilities as an actor, but without more stable support, it's hard to believe him as anything but a box office draw with minimal talent. His performance may have benefited from Soderbergh's approach to acting, which seems to keep the audience emotionally distant from them. Like many of his characters in Contagion, Haywire doesn't exactly endear itself. You hope for Kane's success, but her plight isn't the kind you would cheer or jeer. Carano does a fine job in the role, but is likewise beholden to Soderbergh's style.

Two of their co-stars, Ewan McGregor as the head of a company who outsources spies to various governments and Antonio Banderas as the mysterious financer of the plot against Mallory never display more than rudimentary techniques in their roles. This could be a fault of Lem Dobbs' inefficient screenplay, given that both are fine actors when given better material.

There's a clear dileneation in Dobbs' script between good and bad; while it may not be evident at the outset, by the end of the second act, there is little doubt. This reliance on convention keeps the film from stretching beyond its tightly-focused boundaries. Spy thrillers have always needed an indisputable hero and an indefatiguable villain. Born out of the Cold War, this methodology enabled the public to rally behind the flag as a courageous force risked his own life to protect theirs. While the Bourne series has tried to blur these lines, only Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has managed to keep the audience from identifying someone truly evil and someone entirely good. Shades of gray don't belong in this medium, at least that's the common perception.

Soderbergh had the chance to not only divert from the standard sound effects-heavy techniques of his predecessors, but expand beyond the narrative stricture of the genre. Were it an entirely convention-defying picture, it might have been more exciting; but other than the nifty use of naturalistic sounds, most of the piece is merely traditional.
Oscar Prospects
Potentials: Editing, Sound Editing
Review Written
June 18, 2012

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