Haywire (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Haywire (2012)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

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The idea of a person embodying pure physical willpower and might is one mostly confined to the realm of the fantastic. Superman, The Hulk, that really big bald boxer from Bugs Bunny cartoons-- all sheer muscular energy wrapped up in one metaphysical package. When these archetypes dip closer to the human spectrum, you'll find Stallone's Rocky or Schwarzenegger's Commando. Sweaty, muscular men who will rip a seat out of a car without even thinking twice about it.

No, seriously, watch Commando again. He really didn't have to rip that damn seat out of the car with his bare hands; he was just showing off.

Now let's take another step back and look at things in the muscular female spectrum; not so much the tone, but the sense of a woman able to physically exert themselves to the limits of human capability. You're going to see a lot on what can politely called the goofy end: the heroes from Resident Evil and Underworld both kick butt, almost extensively through the use of having forehand knowledge of what's going to happen next in the script. There's not too many others in line here-- perhaps the lead from Run Lola Run, though her ability to hit 'Retry' makes her ability to kickass a little moot-- but we're soon past the complete artificiality and onto the genuine article.

Unfortunately, all of the action shots don't make good screen caps. Here is Gina looking thoughtful about the methods of the world.

Here is where I will briefly rhapsodize the poetic attributes of female action stars: the agility of Michelle Yeoh. The unyielding power of Cynthia Rothrock. ... and that's all I can think of off the top of my head.

See, I was thinking ahead when I used 'briefly.' Also, now that I think about it, the phrase 'the unyielding power of Cynthia Rothrock' sounds like an odd thing to say.

Regardless, with any luck Gina Carano is joining those ranks. Her role here as Mallory Kane is surprisingly nuanced but also uncompromisingly brutal: like so many bad action movie taglines would suggest, she's the person you call to get the job done.

Steven Soderbergh is a director of many skills, a few of which we've articulated before, and he's surprisingly straightforward and adept at tackling the action film as his veritable 'genre of the week'. He helms her here in Haywire, which covers the usual 'burned spy trying to figure out what happened while leaving a fairly hefty body count in their wake' plot.

I've waxed eloquently about how I get my violent/visceral kicks before-- take a gander back at my review of Rumble in the Bronx if you need a brief rejoinder-- and Carano/Soderbergh nail all of the buttons effectively. Treating the action the same way Fred Astaire insisted on being filmed-- no quick cuts, and the body fullly framed so the audience can see all of the movement-- increases the intensity of the movements, even when they can't escape cartoony elements.

McGregor's character never manages to get pinned down, making him seem like an almost admirable weasel.

That's fine: people fly through glass a little to easily in this film for the correct amounts of lacerations to occur. God knows I'm okay with fewer lacerations in my life. Haywire is heightened reality, but a crafted one that feels organic to its characters.

In fact, most of the pleasure drawn from Haywire comes from its niggling sense of detail. Mallory, for all of her flaws, is a meticulous character, and Soderbergh lingers on her details. She ties back her hair and drinks a glass of wine while she cleans her guns. Watch how Soderbergh films her running, as you watch her concentrate on her breathing with a blank expression on her face. She's embodies a sense of pure discipline, and so as we watch her rage come to bear, it's almost unsettling to know just how much this is going to hurt those who've crossed her.

Luckily for Carano, her supporting cast is equally detail oriented. Channing Tatum plays a hunk of meat for her to fight her way through, and he's overseen by Ewan McGregor. He plays Kane's ex-boyfriend and boss, an entirely unhealthy combination; McGregor's American accent continues to be slightly off, making the sinister possibilities of his character blossom as Kane keeps trying to reorient her world.

Bill Paxton plays Kane's father, a subtle nod to his roles in James Cameron's 'kickass women' movies.

Her femininity plays an important role in the film, as it leads the large web of entirely male operatives to completely underestimate her. When she first begins her spree, the revenge is against a man with whom she'd temporarily become intimate with. As it escalates, each man she confronts is someone who was more and more dear to her. When she hits the final one on her list, and he realizes she's broken through her emotional barriers against hurting those she's cared about, his reaction is the only natural one.

The ending to Haywire is abrupt, but I found that to be as perfectly serendipitous as the filmmaker's obviously wanted. For a film that inched up what Kane was capable of, both physically and mentally, allowing the audience its own interpretation of the final revenge is the only logical alternative.

In terms of the action and character, Haywire is a jarring and fun ride; it's a all-too-rare version of the 'powerful female' trope that's barely escaped the unceasing fetishization of not just the female action hero, but the action hero in general. That it was released the same weak as the limp Underworld: Awakening serves as a reminder of how damn rare that true sense of film delivered empowerment ever really is.

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Posted by Danny

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  1. Nice review, I really dug this film. Completely agree that it is refreshing to see a powerful female role that’s not a generic female action hero movie. Close distinction there.

    • Yeah, Carano really pulled it off; the moments where Kane was supposed to look sexy, she looked uncomfortable, and I think that was another great character touch.

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