Well, *we* enjoyed it.

I HAD intended to see Soderbergh’s HAYWIRE after enjoying the trailer, but as you can see, it took me a while.

I liked the premise of a film based around a female action star who can really do most of the stuff the script shows her doing — it seemed that HAYWIRE was the movie that would do for kicking people in the face what THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE did for soulless sexual encounters. And that, surely, can’t be bad?

Gina Carano, Soderbergh’s discovery — “a natural beauty who beats people to a pulp in a cage” — is worth it. She can act, and indeed in the conversation scenes she seems wondrously natural, her face moving about in a way that the faces of trained thespians, with their screen technique and Botox, rarely do. When you see her in interviews, she seems heftier and more voluble — Soderbergh has slimmed down her look and her mannerisms with careful filming and direction. In the more emotional scenes, he tends to use photogenics in place of histrionics, finding killer looks that express the character’s inner state.

Confirming this as an old-fashioned bit of star-grooming, Carano has very stylish costumes by Shoshana Rubin.

The rest of the cast is fine, with Michael Fassbender and Channing Tatum holding their own in the punching and smashing departments, Michael Douglas a bit miscast as a trustworthy man, and Ewan MacGregor trying hard as always. Antonio Banderas is very amusing, starting the movie with a big beard and then putting it aside for the finale, really for no discernible reason.

Lem Dobbs, who scripted KAFKA and THE LIMEY, wrote this one too. It follows the cool, Melvillean aesthetic of the latter film, with a few moments of sentiment which are more underplayed than they were in the Stamp vehicle. Soderbergh said after KAFKA that he felt he wasn’t good at cold material, which is odd to me, since his OCEAN’S films seem basically slick and heartless. But then, I only like the first one of those, and that not so much. And then again, I liked KAFKA much better than SEX LIES AND VIDEOTAPE, so maybe I’m weird.

Mexico is always a bit sepia-toned in Soderbergh films (see TRAFFIC), contrary to reality.

Dobbs (before taking his name from Bogart in SIERRA MADRE, he started his movie career as Lem Kitaj, acting for Michael Powell in THE BOY WHO TURNED YELLOW — he’s the best thing in it) provides a very simple betrayal-revenge structure which masquerades behind a cloak of sophistication, with flashbacks, lists of names, rapidly shuffled international locations and plenty of mumbled obfuscation. As with THE LIMEY, whose classic moment is a long-held exterior with sounds of mayhem raging indoors (undoubtedly influenced by the climax of THE PUBLIC ENEMY) the movie gets some of its best effects by keeping dramatic events offscreen — but nevertheless makes spectacular use of Carano’s particular talents. Nobody is likely to top the best of Jackie Chan’s fights, but HAYWIRE’s hotel havoc will live for as long as people enjoy seeing Michael Fassbender getting his neck crushed between a set of powerful thighs, and that, my friends, will be a very long time.

Now for CONTAGION and then maybe MAGIC MIKE.

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13 Responses to “Well, *we* enjoyed it.”

  1. Given your current location, the Dublin bits are also appropriate for use as a map to parts of the city — Soderbergh seems to enjoy being geographically accurate as Carano moves around. No Run-Lola-Run approach to city geography, in other words.

    Unrelated, but I finally watched Donkeys this week — must write up my thoughts soon.

  2. Such a pleasure to watch an action movie starring an actress who doesn’t look as though her wrist would snap if she picked up a heavy gun. And kudos to the actors, who allowed themselves to be filmed having the crap kicked out of them by a GIRL – I wonder how many actors would turn a role like that down because they’d worry it might reflect badly on their manliness. (Though of course I have fond memories – probably the only fond memories of that film, in fact – of Arnold Schwarzenegger getting his ass kicked by Miriam Margolyes in End of Days.)

  3. Lem Dobbs was in The Boy Who Turned Yellow? Wow I should have asked him about it when we chatted at the Haywire screening very early this year.

    Your read-out is excellent Carano has quite unusual facial features. More real person than move star. In physical action she reminded me of Francine Berge in Franju’s Judex rather than any martial arts performer. Especially as she spends most of the time crawling over rooftops and sneaking down alleyways.

    Contagion is most impressive indeed, but Magic Mike is too superficially “clever” for its own good, IMO.

  4. Soderbergh certainly has a tendency to clever-clever, which is sometimes nice (and usually preferable to stupid-stupid) but sometimes a bit irksome, if the spine of the project isn’t strong enough.

    Lem Kitaj is the other kid, the very self-assured, long-haired American, in TBWTY. I think his famous painter dad was a friend of Powell’s. Like Carano, he was a natural screen presence.

    Not in Dublin just yet, but looking forward to it. Maybe I’ll retrace her steps (while ducking into the occasional pub).

  5. Never seen End of Days so had no idea about Miriam’s ass-kicking abilities. In real life her superpower is apparently the ability to break wind cacophanously, which seems both an effective and poetically apt way to knock Arnie flat.

  6. apparently she scares people by flashing her EE cup breasts at them (this could be quite a new genre)

  7. If Gina Carano had followed your lead, she would have had a lot less trouble.

    I assume it’s all part of your occasional series Shadowplay Drinks in Dublin Pubs Used in Movies.

  8. 1) Margolyes is TOTALLY a superheroine. They should have her in Avengers II.

    2) Yes, I’ve done the Duck You Sucker recreation already. Time for the Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne drinking game.

  9. The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne Drinking Game is all right as long as nobody gets carried away and opens the little cupboard that has God in it.

  10. But that’s how it ALWAYS ends — a reenactment of Toto in The Wizard of Oz unmasking Frank Morgan.

  11. I’ve been cool on Soderbergh in the past, but CONTAGION and HAYWIRE were an impressive one-two punch. (I agree with David E that MAGIC MIKE wasn’t nearly as impressive.) The conventional wisdom after HAYWIRE did so-so box office was that Carano wouldn’t get another shot in a leading role. I’d love to see another Mallory Kane movie. As a private security contractor, the character presents a lot of room for political commentary, which HAYWIRE approached in subtle ways.

  12. Yeah, maybe too subtle. I didn’t want it to turn into a lecture, but it feels like American cinema is either ignoring what’s going on, or else preaching about it rather crudely. I think you could get away with dripping in a bit more of the modern political landscape — even Bond films do this a bit, usually just namechecking recent events, but I’d like the smarter thrillers to go further.

  13. I agree that it could have stood being more direct, and with Mallory Kane’s father being military, there’s the possibility of exploring the tension/collusion between the military and the private contractors.

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