Haywire will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on May 1st.
What made you want to make this?
It really was because of [Gina]. If she had said no, then I wouldn’t have thought, “oh, well I still want to go and do this.” She was the reason to do the movie for me.
– Steven Soderbergh interview, Cinemablend.com
It’s not often that people would think of Steven Soderbergh as a whimsical director. With a few glaring exceptions (Out of Sight, Oceans), his work is usually serious in tone. But in his approach to choosing projects, he seems as playful as a child. He directed The Good German just to see if he could make something like Casablanca in the modern cinema and he made Bubble largely to experiment with digital filmmaking. Directing a movie just for the chance to make an unorthodox casting choice is nothing new to Soderbergh; he made The Girlfriend Experience just so he could work with Sasha Grey, a fairly notorious porn star. The idea of a porn star playing a high-paid escort isn’t that much of a stretch from a neo-realist perspective, and so it makes perfect sense to put retired MMA fighter Gina Carano in a spy thriller that requires her to show off mad fighting skillz at every other turn.
But there’s more to the role of Mallory Kane than just a few well placed kicks and punches.
Carano, by dint of being a non-actor, can’t really, uh…act. She’s wooden whenever she tries to convey emotion and her line deliveries are stunted. She tries to have attitude, but it’s the type of prefabricated toughness that we might see at an MMA fight or in an action movie with Tom Cruise, but without the panache. Usually this type of thing can just rip you right out of a movie. But as Haywire progressed, it became apparent that maybe Mallory’s woodenness is both a product of Carano’s inability to act and the character’s lack of social adjustment. After all, Mallory is a “black ops super soldier” who lives a rogue life, globe-trotting on dangerous missions for a private sector that can pay her well, but isn’t always able to protect her the way a government agency could. She’s required to do some acting on her assignments and even there she’s not very convincing. We get the sense that Mallory’s is an isolated mind; not bothered by the petty concerns of average human beings, and so when she has to act like she’s in love with someone or interested in anything other than her mission, she comes across as someone playing a part, which she’s doing.
Mallory may be all wooden surface, business, and attitude when she’s socializing, but she seems to be in her own version of relaxation when alone, not relating to any other person. And when she’s in the middle of an action sequence, she seems as natural as a breeze. Many actors forget that body language is the key to any great performance. Carano, perhaps by happy accident, seems to carry her body as a direct extension of her mind; it’s alert, ready, and completely capable of reacting to just about anything. As a natural specimen, Carano has the body of a cat – all reflex, power, agility, and poise. She makes Mallory seem like a smooth robot, able to kill and destroy on command or at will. When you watch her walk down the street, you begin to wonder if this girl ever sleeps.
Steven Soderbergh has never been shy about his willingness to rip off John Boorman’s Point Blank, and this willingness hasn’t been this evident since The Limey. The style of Haywire is all Point Blank – fractured narrative, ambient flashbacks, and mood music throughout. The movie has a floating quality that is tranquil and reassuring even when tension is building. The one departure (and true stroke of genius) is that Soderberg strips the fighting sequences down to foley sounds of punching, kicking, and body movement. Watching Carano in an MMA fight, whether on TV or live, would come will all sorts of bells and whistles; but in Haywire the fighting is raw, isolated from any dressing or fanfare. It gives the viewer the chance to look straight in the face of a punch, to really sense the bloodied mouth and clenched stomach. And in that vacuum of style you can begin to really appreciate the beauty of Carano’s athleticism.
Haywire doesn’t break any new ground for the action genre or for Soderbergh. The plot, which is a recycling of so many other hackneyed action movies, ends up not mattering much in the face of all those glorious fight scenes. The film ends up being just another plaything for its director, which doesn’t stop it from being a rewarding and often exciting viewing experience. The joys of the film are all in Soderbergh’s tinkering nature and in Carano’s presence. I don’t even remember the plot of the film anymore, but the idea of Carano, the grit of the violence, and the non-linear disjunctions remain with me still.
About a year ago, Soderbergh announced that he would be retiring from filmmaking once he’s finished up with a few projects, so that he could pursue other artistic interests. I’m all for Soderberg expanding his horizons, but if he’s going to quit movies to become a painter, he’d better be the second coming of Andrew Wyeth. Indications are that he’s postponed his retirement for at least a couple more movies. Let’s hope he keeps postponing his retirement as long as possible.