Trying to predict the career of Steven Soderbergh is a pointless affair. Not only did he crank out movies quicker than any other a mainstream director (except maybe for Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen), he also jumped around from genre to genre more than other director I can think of. There aren’t many film makers who have such a unique and recognisable voice as Soderbergh, yet can translate that voice to almost anything. It’s already wacky enough to think he made the paranoia filled Contagion before moving to the sleazy male stripper world of Magic Mike. But it gets really wacky when you realise that in between those, he made an action beat ‘em up starring a female Mixed Martial Arts star who’d never acted before. And the result was Haywire.
Opening in a highway side diner, we meet Mallory (Ultimate Fighting ass kicker, Gina Carano). She’s waiting for Channing Tatum’s Aaron. Within minutes, they’ve had a massive punch up, she’s won and is fleeing in a car with innocent bystander Scott (Michael Angarano). In the car, Mallory’s story turns into a series of flashbacks to get Scott and the audience up to speed.
Working for Ewan McGregor’s Kenneth, Mallory is part of some sort of clandestine group of elite, black ops style organisation. After a meeting with government official Alex (Michael Douglas), Mallory is sent on a mission in Ireland where she works with Michael Fassbender’s MI6 agent, Paul. This is about the time when everything in Mallory’s life turns to shit. Double crosses turn into triple and quadruple crosses. All allegiances become suspect and the people she trusted most turn out to be the prime suspects in everything going wrong for Mallory.
The biggest surprise with Haywire is that Soderbergh made a totally non ironic, deliberately B grade genre picture. While Out of Sight could kind of be seen as an action movie, it’s so self aware, George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez almost wink at the camera. This is more along the lines of something like The Limey, Soderbergh’s grimey revenge flick. Or Side Effects, an unapologetic thriller. Haywire embraces all the genre tropes of an action movie starring an MMA fighter, with genuine affection, not snarky sarcasm.
When you cast a first time actor in your movie’s main role, I guess there are two ways to go when you build the rest of the cast around them. Either surround the newbie with ringers who can help raise the overall bar of the movie, or surround them with people who are just kind of OK, so you never highlight your lead actor’s flaws. Well, Soderbergh definitely went with option one.
Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas… All of these dudes are overflowing with charisma and have proven themselves to be more than adequately equipped with solid acting chops. And unfortunately for Carano, it does sometimes make her seem a little out of her depth in comparison.
It’s the kind of thing that whenever I think it, I realise I’ve thought it many times, but always manage to forget. But Haywire proves that Steven Soderbergh is a really great director. It seems obvious to say about an Oscar winning, blockbutser making, generation defining film maker, but it’s movies like Haywire that really drive the point home. It’s one thing for him to make a great movie when making something high end like Traffic, or crowd pleasing like Erin Brockovich, but it’s a totally different thing to make a great movie when working with an action beat ‘em up starring a female Mixed Martial Arts start who’d never acted before. And Soderbegh more than makes it work.