Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor and Michael Fassbender Directed By: Steven Soderbergh Written By: Lem Dobbs Produced By: Gregory Jacobs Distributor: Relativity Media Rating: R Running Time: 93 minutes Website: haywiremovie.com Budget: $25 million Genre: Action / Thriller Release Date: January 20, 2012 “Don’t think of her as a woman,” explains Ewan McGregor during a […]

Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor and Michael Fassbender
Directed By: Steven Soderbergh
Written By: Lem Dobbs
Produced By: Gregory Jacobs
Distributor: Relativity Media
Rating: R
Running Time: 93 minutes
Website: haywiremovie.com
Budget: $25 million
Genre: Action / Thriller
Release Date: January 20, 2012

“Don’t think of her as a woman,” explains Ewan McGregor during a briefing with suave British assassin Michael Fassbender. “That would be a mistake.”

McGregor’s advice concerns Gina Carano, the cool and deadly female at the center of Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire. And McGregor should know: Carano is not only an ex-Marine and legend in the field of private security, she’s also his ex-wife. McGregor’s not taking the breakup well – especially as her skills were the only thing keeping his security firm from bankruptcy – so he hires Fassbender to murder her.

Things do not go as planned.

Now a rogue agent on the run, Carano uses her impressive athleticism and modern-day espionage skills to avoid the authorities in multiple countries. She is offered a chance at redemption by shady intelligence director Michael Douglas, but only if she can track down McGregor and force him to reveal the mastermind behind his company’s dubious hostage extraction in Barcelona.

Despite attempts to convolute the simple plot with framing devices and a few eleventh-hour flashbacks, Haywire is a surprisingly-straightforward spy film. Soderbergh has cited as his inspiration genre classics like From Russia with Love, and that influence is felt in everything from the realistic portrayal of the world of espionage to the jazzy, experimental score to the claustrophobic fight scenes.

Soderberg takes great pains to make these fights as non-cinematic as possible. Fights explode without warning, and are brief and brutal, with the combatants using everything and anything they can get their hands on to inflict damage to their target. An intriguing sound design makes punches wet and muffled, and gunshots pop like firecrackers. A hand-to-hand brawl on a beach is all but overwhelmed by the sound of the incoming tides. None of the fight sequences feature any accompanying music.

These are just some of the ways Soderbergh breaks with modern action movie conventions. For a generation used to the shaky cameras and disorienting cuts of the Bourne series, Haywire‘s smooth pans and fixed angles might seem a bit antiquated. Soderbergh’s ace in the hole is Gina Carano, a real-life mixed-martial-arts fighter who performs all of her own fight scenes and stuntwork with shocking ease. Carano’s physicality is the star of the show; all Soderbergh has to do is pick the best angle from which to display it.

The film’s real surprise is the strength of Carano’s performance. The former “American Gladiator” has no prior professional acting experience, but manages a believable and sly performance. As with Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience, Soderbergh discovered a unique woman and wove a story around her to highlight her strengths.

The only problem is that by playing to what he viewed as Carano’s strengths, he’s playing into some pretty damning cliches about female strength. Carano is an effective field agent, but has achieved her reputation solely by acting as masculine as her peers. Her post-mission routine is to obsessively clean her guns while drinking wine, and she signals her interest in a fellow agent by unbuckling his belt.

Ewan McGregor might’ve had good reason to not think of Carano as a woman. The problem is that Soderburgh treats her the same way.

Except when he doesn’t. Throughout the film, Carano is presented as just one of the guys, but the camera too often lingers on her body, particularly during her post-cocktail-party brawl with Fassbender, where her dress tears seductively and she wraps her thighs around his head to subdue him. This is not a feminist hero, it’s teenage male fantasy.

Gender politics aside, Haywire is an entertaining espionage throwback featuring some inventive action and stuntwork. In a genre littered with also-rans, it forges its own path, largely on the strength of its unconventional star.

3 Stars (out of 5)

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