Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Lem Dobbs (screenplay)
Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender and Michael Douglas
Like a virus that won’t go away, Mallory (Gina Carano) jumps around the globe, slowing down or killing anything that gets in her path. That is largely where the narrative similarities between her story and the one from director Steven Soderbergh’s last film, Contagion, end though.
Haywire is curious when placed with the rest of his catalog in that it focuses on a single individual but also contains a large ensemble cast. Usually his films are one (Erin Brockovich) or the other (Traffic). At the center of this semi-departure is MMA fighter Gina Carano, who Soderbergh saw fighting on TV and decided to build a movie around. Carano’s ferociously physical performance as Mallory is by far the movie’s greatest asset. Soderbergh films most of the action sequences in confined areas, letting her utilize the environment in astonishing and brutal ways.
In the movie’s best fight sequence, Mallory dukes it out with Paul (Michael Fassbender), who double-crosses her in their hotel room after a mission. The hotel room is torn to pieces as the two skilled fighters pummel each other to a pulp, and Mallory uses her thighs to choke out Fassbender on their bed. It’s the closest she comes to being sexualized outside of coming on to Channing Tatum’s character early on in the story.
Haywire‘s narrative is nothing to write home about, nor are many of the performances. Though it’s filled with memorable names and faces (add in Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas and Bill Paxton), they are all firmly embedded in the standard action plot line and never as interesting as Mallory. Amid those predictable, nearly incoherent government double crosses and surprise raids is some fine filmmaking, however. Soderbergh shoots many of the action sequences from a distance, allowing Carano’s MMA skill to do most of the work. Her body is a weapon that no man (and it’s always a man) can defeat or outmatch.
While it’s clear that Mallory disarming men of their guns and other phallic symbols is one of the main points of the movie, it’s not overstated. It’s clear that almost everyone she comes into contact with underestimates her at first, but the main villain (McGregor) warns Paul not to see her as “a woman.” That scene comes during a flashback toward the end, and seems to exist as a way to give the otherwise simple run and gun flick a purpose.
That purpose ultimately ends up being that Mallory becomes a female warrior that forces men to take her seriously by the sheer brutal force of her skill. The rest of the principle characters are all male because they, in their own way, exist purely to react to her in different ways. When her father (Bill Paxton) sees her dispensing an armed man by crushing his throat and slamming him into the ground, his look of shock and horror resonates just as much as the punches. It’s a sly turn on normal action conventions (women usually play the reactors instead of the catalysts) that is more notable because it isn’t overly expressed through dialogue.
Most of what is said out loud in this film is sloppy and mostly unimportant in the larger scope. The plot contains a mundane amount of twists tossed in to substitute for its lack of originality. Soderbergh’s way of shooting gives wonderfully diverse colors and moods to the story, though. He constructs each scene as its own set piece, following an almost video game mentality with Mallory as the character fighting her way through each level. This approach works because she is interesting to watch, and the movie would’ve failed miserably if that weren’t true.