Haywire (2011) movie poster

director Steven Soderbergh
viewed: 07/07/2012

Director Steven Soderbergh devised the film, Haywire, as a star-making vehicle for mixed-martial arts fighter Gina Carano.  It’s not the first time that Soderbergh has sought to build a film around a non-mainstream performer.  His 2009 film, The Girlfriend Experience, employed porn actress Sasha Grey in her first mainstream feature film, building around her own unique qualities.  In Carano’s case, it’s her fighting skills that should make her the most compelling. So an international intrigue is constructed, giving her an action-based role to show her stuff and kick some ass.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work as well as it might have sounded on paper.

Carano is very beautiful and built.  And she can kick ass.  And for the most part, the film doesn’t ask her to work with a great breadth of range.  Really, this is a typical given in the action realm even for male stars.  But then in a typical action film, no holds barred, it’s action, action, action and violence.  It’s not usually trying to be urbane, intelligent, or otherwise meaningful.  Soderbergh is looking to make an intelligent action film at the very least, and Carano needs to have character and be something more than a figure hitting her marks.  There were times in the film that I felt like I could imagine someone coaching her through a scene: “Okay, look down.  Pause.  Look left, look right, step off camera.”  Most likely she hit her marks and it’s not that she’s so much a “bad” actress as much as she seems to be going through these motions.

Quentin Tarantino used stuntwoman Zoë Bell in Death Proof (2007) similarly, but he didn’t try to build the whole film around her (it was bad enough as it was).  There is, especially in action films, something very compelling about someone whose physicality is just presented on screen, doing their own stunts, showing their skills.  But the most successful ones have some larger acting ability or outright charisma/persona that carries them further.  Carano’s performance is understandably understated but also quite muted.  And in the end, Soderbergh doesn’t specialize in fight scenes, especially with someone doing their own stunts.  Those sequences seem very choreographed (of course they are, they just aren’t supposed to look like they are).

The story itself is kind of confusing, told in flashbacks and semi-linear order, I couldn’t completely sort out what was supposed to be going on.  The bottom line is that Carano’s character works in some covert ops for a third party firm working for government and something goes wrong, she gets set up for assassination.  She’s got to figure out too.  Ultimately, you can kind of figure who the bad guys are and even if it doesn’t make total sense, it’s not the biggest problem with the film.  Or at least not the biggest that I had with it.

I had heard that it wasn’t all that great, but I’d liked Soderbergh’s last genre film, Contagion (2011), and held some hope that it might be more worthwhile.  It’s decent, by no means atrocious.  But by no means particularly worthwhile, either.