Some moviegoers might ultimately scoff at details in the film's narrative - but watching Carano throw her entire body and soul into Mallory never falters in delivering compelling onscreen action.
Fans of mixed martial arts (MMA) are likely already familiar with Gina Carano - a highly ranked Middleweight fighter (and ex-American Gladiator "Crush") who was recently scooped up by director Steven Soderbergh for an action-heroine role.
Now, Soderbergh and Carano are set to deliver their combined effort: The action-espionage film Haywire, which mixes the director's sharp visual style and intriguing character drama with Carano's heavy-hitting and downright brutal fight choreography.
Like much of Soderbergh's work, Haywire stumbles here and there - but ultimately delivers a unique moviegoing experience that is both intelligent and especially exciting to watch. Concerns over Carano's casting (which some detractors believed would be representative of style over substance) are quickly put to rest as the newcomer actress easily presents a performance that balances some of the most savage fight choreography in recent memory - as well as nuanced dialogue exchanges with a number of Hollywood's top acting talent (Michael Fassbender and Ewan McGregor, among others).
The Haywire storyline is ultimately pretty straightforward. At times it comes across as less of a driving force for the characters and more of an excuse for Carano to showcase her action chops. She plays Mallory Kane, a highly sought-after contract spy who suddenly finds herself on the run after her former employer (and ex-lover) Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) attempts to have her killed. In order to expose her handler's betrayal, Mallory must fight through a number of life-threatening scenarios, while Kenneth (along with similarly shady individuals) throws everything from local law enforcement to highly-trained mercenaries in her way. While the plot isn't as sharp as some of Soderbergh's other films (Ocean's Eleven and Traffic), the narrative still succeeds at delivering an intriguing action-drama piece filled with interesting character dynamics - all grounded in some truly rough-and-tumble fight choreography.
As mentioned, Carano holds her own as both a rising action star and a capable actress. It's actually refreshing to see Carano popping up on the Hollywood radar under Soderbergh's wing instead of a less subtle filmmaker (like Michael Bay or Paul W.S. Anderson). Instead of a vapid, ass-kicking piece of eye candy, the director smartly positioned Carano to be taken seriously for her acting and not just her ability to choke a man out with her thighs. As a result, it's easy to see that both Haywire and Carano's future acting endeavors will both benefit greatly from Soderbergh's approach. Mallory has to wear a lot of different faces in this film, and while a few of them are depicted with less success than others, there's never a moment where Carano's inexperience shines through - and, more often than not, the rookie actress (we're not counting her direct-to-DVD film, Blood and Bone, with Michael Jai White) actually manages to offer up some intriguing and convincing complexities.
The tone set by Soderbergh and Carano also requires the supporting cast to step up their physical game as well - with some truly hard-hitting sequences for Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, and Channing Tatum. In addition to the physical moments, pretty much everyone involved manages to present interesting and nuanced onscreen drama - with some memorable (and lengthy) single take dialogue exchanges between characters.
While Haywire is definitely an entertaining ride with some fun set-pieces and killer fight sequences, it's possible that some moviegoers will feel that despite its good points, the film is ultimately pretty thin. Most of the characters involved are interesting to watch moment to moment but don't get to enjoy actual over-arching story progressions. Plus, nearly every characters is a static image, unchanged by the events that play out, until Mallory either rescues or kills them.
Even Carano's Mallory isn't given very far to grow - and while she's believable and interesting, Soderbergh's "force of nature" approach to the character removes a bit of tension as the story progresses - since most of Mallory's "slip-ups" aren't actually her fault. In their attempt to make Mallory one of the most accomplished covert operatives in the game - the filmmakers wrote themselves into a corner. If Mallory screws up, she's not badass enough; however, inconvenient things need to happen to her to keep the story moving. As a result, a number of situations that force the plot forward are actually just the result of random events - such as a forest scene where Mallory out-maneuvers two police cruisers and is only thwarted by a disconnected external encounter.
Though it doesn't detract from the scene-to-scene enjoyment, the story beats remove a lot of responsibility from Mallory's shoulders, allowing her to be both top dog (rarely making mistakes) as well as action fodder (pulled back into the story through "not her fault" events). As a result, Haywire features a number of scenes that while enjoyable, are a bit too convenient with a protagonist that is exceptionally entertaining to watch but isn't really forced to own any of the fallout - even though her actions do, at times, put friends and loved ones in jeopardy. Ultimately, the filler between the action set-pieces can be pretty interesting but it's hard to escape the over-arching sense that showcasing Carano's fighting chops is priority number one.
The Haywire plot isn't Soderbergh's strongest and the filmmakers obviously struggled a bit in balancing Mallory's kick-butt onscreen action with the larger movements of the story. However, few of the film's shortcomings ultimately detract from the minute to minute onscreen ride - which benefits greatly from the director's smart visual flourishes and Carano's fresh (and uncompromising) approach to action. Some moviegoers might ultimately scoff at details in the film's narrative - but watching Carano throw her entire body and soul into Mallory never falters in delivering compelling onscreen action.
If you’re still on the fence about Haywire, check out the trailer below:
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick - and let us know what you thought of the film.
Haywire is now in theaters.