RogerBW's Blog

Haywire 07 June 2014

2011, dir. Steven Soderbergh, Gina Carano, Michael Angarano: IMDb / allmovie

An agent betrayed and framed by her boss sets about taking him down.

It's a very old story, once we've seen plenty of times before, though granted usually with a male rather than a female operative. So if the plot is well-worn, what's left to appreciate is acting and direction.

This is directed by Soderbergh, of course, so everything has to have that little edge of artiness. For a start, the majority of it is in flashback. One action sequence is tinted faintly sepia and played with almost no sound, just the music; other tense scenes play with colour saturation, and have only native sound. There's no real consistency to it. On the upside, Soderbergh isn't afraid to leave his audience guessing at what's going on; there's no hand-holding such as many films use, that would leave even the most naïf and foolish member of the audience (and the novice to spy films) in no doubt as to what was happening. What's more, the action sequences (not as many as one might expect from this sort of film) are shot clearly; there's always a sense of place, and of how the fighters are moving around within a confined hotel room, alley, or whatever. The fights give the feel of being realistic, though I'm no expert, and the lack of music for most of them lends a visceral feel that's too often lacking; my only real problem is that they seem to last too long given the amount of damage that's being dealt.

This is Carano's film, and she's allowed to look like a real person: her skin isn't perfectly smooth. But more importantly she always projects a sense of being in control, not surprisingly for someone with a background in muay thai and then MMA before she went into showmanship. The conversation before the first fight is just another stage of the dominance game: they both know there's going to be a fight, and that conversation is really just a way of setting up advantage in it. Some of her line readings were apparently tweaked after shooting, and they still aren't always that great, but for a role like this I'd rate Carano's utter physical confidence as far more important than the ability to put across emotions. After all, the character is meant to be relatively undemonstrative, as one has to be to survive a job like that. Perversely enough, that makes her rather more likeable on screen than she has any right to be.

There's a strong, if small, secondary role for the ever-excellent Bill Paxton as the protagonist's father, and a practically unrecognisable Ewan McGregor as her double-crossing boss; Carano's able to hold her own on the screen against a number of surprisingly big names. But alas, towards the end everyone's performance starts to sag a bit; I suspect the film would have been better trimmed by twenty minutes or so, as I started to get a feeling that cast and crew were going through the motions.

All the same, and while it won't set the world on fire, it's solid entertainment; the artiness didn't detract from my enjoyment, and all this film really needs to be is enjoyable.

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