Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire (2012) – Blu-ray and DVD review
A pared-down, plotless actioner that keeps its stars in the background so a non-actor can let rip? A typically bloody-minded Soderbergh film, in other words.
(Steven Soderbergh, 2011)
One day, somebody is going to have to explain Steven Soderbergh’s career – and maybe Haywire will take the most explaining. How many times have you seen an Oscar- and Palme D’Or-winning auteur make an action movie? And how often does an A-list director garner a cast of heavyweights and hot stars and deploy them in flanking formation around a non-actor?
Or maybe, on reflection, Haywire will be the key to unlocking Soderbergh’s career. It’s a slinky, jazzy riff of movie-movie-ness, as stylish as Ocean’s 11, as fragmented as Traffic and as Brechtian as Schizopolis. It’s proof that Soderbergh exists in the Hollywood equivalent of hyperspace, making films in the same co-ordinates as the mainstream but somehow – to coin a phrase – always tantalisingly Out Of Sight.
What does it all mean? Nothing whatsoever. In the genre of ‘airplane thrillers’ (you know, the kind of film you always end up watching on a Transatlantic flight) this makes your typical Jason Statham flick look like Shakespeare. Gina Carano’s black ops specialist Mallory Kane is set up as the patsy in a deliberately under-explained conspiracy; she finds out what’s happened and fights back. Aside from the odd surreal flourish (watch out for the roadkill!), it goes exactly where you expect it to.
Yet it’s what Soderbergh does with this scenario that is so intriguing and (depending on your threshold for artiness) frustrating. His direction ties the arrow-straight narrative into knots, via a self-conscious flashback structure and enough globe-trotting to bring out those patented filtered lenses that MAKE EVERYWHERE LOOK DIFFERENT. Soderbergh lets David Holmes go techno-funk mental with the score, only to kill the music for fight sequences that soundtrack themselves via facial punches and shattering glass. And, with an unschooled presence at the centre of the film, Soderbergh keeps Carano dialogue-light in order to concentrate on what she does well.
After casting porn star Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience, Soderbergh is in again in experimental mode when it comes to performance. Whether planning a mission or on the run, Mallory is forever in motion, and Soderbergh’s camera hangs back, keeping real-life MMA fighter Carano in long shot to show her mix of feline grace and brutal violence. It’s an almost existential use of action, with Mallory’s character defined by chokes and crunches; Carano’s hotel room dust-up with Michael Fassbender tips into comedy because its extreme manoeuvres are treated with such realism. The only drawback is that the great cast is left wandering around in the back of shot – a mercy for Ewan McGregor, who must be embarrassed at having to play a villain called Kenneth, but bad news for the engaging Channing Tatum. Too often Soderbergh’s arty compositions leave us looking at random objects in the foreground, rather than the high-calibre supporting cast.