Punches and kicks are delivered with thunderous power and lightning-quick efficiency in Steven Soderbergh’s globe-trotting spy film Haywire, a Bourne-like tale of deception and revenge twisted into a narrative pretzel. Such godly prowess is wielded by fleet specialists of death both foreign and domestic, men and women who swing through the regular world so effortlessly they make cramped European cities look like jungle gyms meant for child’s play. Killing is easy for this bunch, but Soderbergh’s concerns are much more nuanced than simply reinventing the Hollywood action film though his usual medley of genre subversion.
At the center of Haywire’s
storm of espionage, and every single gut-crushing action scene for that matter, is deadly private contractor Mallory Kane (MMA titan Gina Carano), a beautiful black ops soldier capable of both crushing backs and striking necks, like some unnatural hybrid of boa constrictor and king cobra. After leading a botched rescue operation involving a Chinese journalist in Barcelona, Mallory becomes an international target hunted by her former boss and lover Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) and his band of Blackwater-style cronies. Relentless pursuit dictates all in Haywire
, no matter how many times the role of hunter and prey are reversed.
Initially told in flashback by Mallory to an innocent civilian caught in the crossfire, Haywire never stops jumping forward and backward within a very contained timeline of events, embracing the gaps and potholes of a story that in reality is quite conventional. Lem Dobb’s non-linear script over-emphasizes this sense of incompleteness, while Soderbergh’s fragmented editing style further perforates Mallory’s quest to reclaim her good name. Thankfully, Dave Holmes’s haunting 1970s-style jazz score and it’s wailing horns act as a perfect compliment to Carano’s smooth, solitary movement. Ultimately, for a film that jumps locales and sequences so suddenly, it’s this consistent relationship between aching music and physical fury that connects the dots.
Unlike most spy films, Haywire
frames the act of murder, surveillance, and conversation as extensions of intimacy. The opening scene, where Mallory defends herself against a former colleague (Channing Tatum) in a grueling close-contact battle within a country diner, establishes this trend immediately. Soderbergh frames the two as dragons intertwined together, struggling for control in a physical scenario where inches and seconds matter. During action moments like this one the music stops and even some background noise becomes muted, leaving behind a spare genre world drained of all sound except for the pummeling grunts of battle. This motif continues throughout Haywire
, most excitingly when Mallory and a British MI6 operative (Michael Fassbender) duke it out inside a posh hotel room, a brutally kinetic fight that sends shards of glass and splintering wood in every conceivable direction.
Still, despite Mallory’s lethal omniscience and skill, Haywire
often retreats to the sidelines and takes the perspective of male characters watching her controlled chaos from a distance. The finest and most disturbing example occurs when Mallory’s father, Mr. Kane (Bill Paxton), a former battle-tested Marine himself, watches his daughter engage in fisticuffs with an armed assailant from the opposite side of his New Mexico villa. As Mallory delivers the kill shot draped in shadow, Kane slowly walks toward her, Soderbergh holding on the face of a father stunned by his daughter’s brilliantly realized independence. It is here, during this small but shocking moment, that Haywire’s
examination of intimacy, both fabricated and real, comes to a striking head.
Haywire opens in wide release Friday, January 20, 2012