Lionsgate // 2012 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Alice Nelson // May 7th, 2012
I don't care if her voice is auto-tuned, Gina Carano is the real thang.
Not too many women can legitimately pull off the action movie badass. Gina Carano not only does it as well as any dude, but retains her femininity...which is no easy feat. Carano is tough, not just movie tough but real world tough and it shows in her exciting breakout performance.
Mallory Kane (Carano) works for a clandestine organization hired by the United States Government to discreetly take care of problems they'd prefer to keep out of the papers. After Mallory completes a job in Barcelona -- where the "client" requested her specifically -- she is suddenly the target of elimination, and must find out who is behind the hit before it's too late.
When Haywire hit theaters, a huge deal was made of digital alterations to Gina Carano's voice. You know what I say? So what. The change is subtle and doesn't distract from her performance. She's a powerhouse on screen whose skills do the talking. Besides, mentioning such an insignificant fact to the Mixed Martial Arts Champion might provoke her into punching you in the throat, so I would just let it go.
Haywire is an old school espionage film with loads of well-choreographed fight sequences and a plot that requires your undivided attention. This is not your standard action fare; blink and you'll miss something. Carano fronts a cast of heavyweights and is surprisingly good, commanding the screen in a way some Hollywood veterans would sell their souls for. Coming from the MMA world, I expected her acting to be from the Jean Claude Van Damme (Universal Soldier) school, utilizing overly exaggerated facial expressions and heavy breathing to show emotional depth. Instead of exhibiting those traits, Carano is at ease with the camera, never trying to compete with her more established castrates.
One such co-star is Channing Tatum (21 Jump Street), usually a lumbering mumbling stiff on screen. Here he plays Aaron, an arrogant know-it-all who worked with Mallory on the Barcelona job. I'm surprised to say that Tatum is quite good, a nice counterbalance to Carano. The mumbling works and he even manages to exhibit a few different expressions, almost like he's human. Ewan McGregor (Beginners) plays Kenneth, Mallory's employer and sometime lover; lesson learned here, never mix business with pleasure. Michael Fassbender (Shame) is Paul, a freelancer who "works" with Mallory on a suspicious job in Dublin. Antonio Banderas (Puss in Boots) does fantastic Latin sleaze as Rodrigo, a State Department employee with his own personal agenda. Finally, there's Michael Douglas (Basic Instinct) as Alex Coblenz, a high level government official who may be playing both sides of the fence. Relative newcomer Carano keeps pace without looking the least bit intimidated by her co-stars' years of experience.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh (Ocean's Eleven) and written by Lem Dobbs (The Score), Haywire manages to avoid the typical Hollywood mistake of thinking a strong female lead means crafting a character who is nothing more than a one dimensional mirror image of what a man would be in the same role. This is never more apparent than in the silly Demi Moore film G.I. Jane; avoid that drivel at all costs. Now, I'm not getting all feminista on ya'll, because I believe there are real differences between men and women which can't be overlooked. But it's good to see a real woman (no petite waif) whose skills are on par with any male action star. Mallory Kane isn't trying to level the playing field in some fictional battle of the sexes; her character does something far more noteworthy. Haywire has created a whole new direction for female leading ladies. Kane doesn't need to prove she's equal to a man; she's comfortable being a woman and kicking your ass, wearing a designer dress or jeans and combat boots.
Presented in standard definition 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, Haywire is a skillfully shot film. Soderbergh uses a great deal of natural light and muted colors to emphasize the grave situation Mallory finds herself. The Dolby 5.1 Surround mix makes some of the dialogue difficult to decipher, but not enough to be problematic. What I loved most about the audio is how Soderbergh chose to shoot the fight sequences. There is no cheesy action music, just the gritty sounds of hits and grunts, as both parties fight for their lives. Bonus features include two featurettes -- "Gina Carano in Training" and "The Men of Haywire." While I've never been enamored with DVD extras -- they're often too long and filled unnecessary blather -- I found these to be informative and engaging, adding to an already wonderful viewing experience.
Haywire is one of those films you want to watch over and over. There is so much going on you'll see things in the second go round easily missed during the first. It's a shame the movie wasn't a bigger commercial success, because this is an important moment for women in action films; a feat not accomplished by the likes of Angelina Jolie, Demi Moore, or even Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Perhaps, in time, Haywire will have a much greater impact than initially perceived.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Official Site