Steven Soderbergh is a director that likes to keep himself busy.  Since his debut movie, sex, lies, and videotape won the Palme D’Or in 1989, he’s never had a gap of more than two years between movies.  He has been extraordinarily prolific, and he always appears keen to try everything.  He’s worked in many different genres, and seems to find it as easy to work on expensive blockbusters as he does on small indie movies.  In keeping with the frenetic pace at which he has maintained throughout his career, Haywire has been released just three months after his previous film, Contagion hit cinemas.

While Contagion was a relatively big budget movie with a shoot that took place over several months, Haywire is a much smaller movie, one that took less than two months to shoot.  It is the story of Mallory, a covert operative who does the jobs governments cannot, and what happens to her after she is betrayed by the company she works for.  Like many of Soderbergh’s recent movies, it features an all star cast, with Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender and Bill Paxton starring alongside Gina Carano, an MMA fighter and former American Gladiator, taking on her first lead role in a movie.

Under any other circumstances, an action movie featuring an MMA fighter would go straight to DVD, and probably have a cameo by 50 Cent or Danny Dyer.  But with Soderbergh directing, and a script written by Lem Dobbs (who has previously worked with Soderbergh on Kafka and The Limey, as well as writing the script for Dark City), it gets a big cinematic release.  Certainly without the involvement of those two, the cast would be nowhere near as strong and Carano would be working alongside unknowns and has beens.  But she holds her own amongst such a recognisable cast, giving a decent acting performance while handling the fighting and action sequences more easily.

In a smart move, Dobbs has written a script that is far from complicated.  In the wake of the Bourne movies, any number of bad imitations have appeared, with plots nowhere near as clever as they’d like to be (I’m looking at you Unknown), but Haywire is a relatively straightforward tale of someone being double crossed and seeking revenge.  The action is well conceived, and stylishly shot by Soderbergh.  The score is written by another Soderbergh regular, David Holmes.  Holmes contributed the cool sounding soundtracks to the Ocean’s 11, 12 and 13, and similarly delivers here.  It is not a typical high tempo action movie score, but more loose and funky sounding than you’d expect from music soundtracking people getting their heads kicked in.

Haywire is a very simple, straightforward action movie.  At just over 90 minutes, there’s no filler, with a quick pace as Mallory seeks revenge on the people who betrayed her.  The movie is very much a vehicle for Carano, with the rest of the cast mainly in supporting roles, rather than taking screen time away from her.  She is convincing as Mallory, and certainly appears capable of carving out a career in film if she chooses to move on from professional fighting.  Strong leading roles for females in movies are hard to come by though, even more so in action movies, but Steven Soderbergh has given her a platform to show what she can do, and Haywire is a very good start.

David Dougan

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