(Image from IMP awards)
It's not often that you get an action movie that is better received by critics than it is by the movie going public, but Haywire appears to be finding itself in just that atypical situation. This is perhaps fitting since it is an atypical action film, which may help to explain audience apathy. As one patron said to another as they left the screening I attended (to paraphrase) "the trailer was like, sick, but the story was confusing".
In fairness, the story is a tad convoluted but not especially confusing. The film begins 'in media res' with a woman named Mallory (played by former MMA fighter Gina Carano) forced to go on the run with a hostage (Michael Angarano), to whom she recounts her tale. Mallory is an agent/operative for a private agency run by a man named Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) that carries out contracts like rescue and protection (and possibly other stuff). Following a rescue operation carried out with fellow operative Aaron (Channing Tatum) she's quickly pushed into another job, a cushy babysitting job that turns out to be anything but, one that leads to her being betrayed and hunted down by her agency and the authorities. Also in the mix are Michael Douglas as a government agent who hires Kenneth's agency for a contract and Antonio Banderas as a shady middle man.
On the surface it's a typical 'wrongfully accused hero on the run and out for revenge' tale. Actually it's essentially that beneath the surface as well, but as I said before it is atypical. The plot is silly and nonsensical but still compelling enough to drive the action. Steven Soderbergh isn't really known for making run of the mill films, and this is definitely a Soderbergh film through and through. There are many quiet periods and copious amounts of small character moments and detail throughout, and the dialogue is garrulous and delivered in a monotone that is occasionally punctuated by dead pan humour. It's visually slick, with distinctive colour filters employed, and it has an energetic and, well, 'cool' musical score.
In terms of action, there's surprisingly little of it, which may be one of the reasons people lured in by the trailer expecting non stop ass kicking may feel cheated. Despite the story being over the top, there's a grittiness to it and a believability to the central character - there are moments where Mallory seems vulnerable, like the brilliant scene in which she makes an escape walking furtively along a street, hyper sensitive to every sound and movement around her, sensing imminent danger.
Speaking of fights, they may be sparse but when they happen they are fast and furious and brutal, with a lot of wide shots and long takes making for very entertaining action sequences. Gina Carano may not be an actress, but she does have the magnetism that many other non actor action stars have, from Bruce Lee through to Schwarzenegger, and a physical presence that completely sells the action. She doesn't lose any fights, but she does take some brutal blows along the way. There's an impressive sequence where she's climbing and jumping along rooftops in long takes that aren't showy but are impressive for simply being her actually doing these things.
Carano isn't great in the talky scenes, nor is she bad; she seems just right for the tone and style of the film. The rest of the very impressive cast more than compensate for any deficiencies in the acting department with their performances, including when they get their asses handed to them at some point or the other in a brutal beat down!
Haywire is a very good action thriller that stands out from the crowd in the same way Hanna did last year (my review) by being a film that embraces the genre it represents while also transcending it in many ways. I guess an interesting and talented filmmaker can always bring something to the table, even when that table is a well worn and cliche ridden genre.