Efficient. That’s Steven Soderbergh‘s Haywire in one word. These days, it’s nothing for a thriller to hop around the globe, to squeeze in swerves and car chases, to fashion for themselves a superhuman killing machine. Haywire does these things as well—if not better—than its contemporaries, but its pace is ruthless, breakneck. At 92-minutes, there is no fat on its bones, and no queasy-cam gimmicks, either. When Haywire stops to take a breath, it’s only to show how tightly the net around its heroine is constricted.
Malory Kane (Gina Carano) is our superhuman, the focus of a plot that aims to take her out. As Haywire opens, shes sitting in a cafe in upstate New York, sipping tea. Before she has time to finish her cup, she’s locked in a brutal fight with Aaron (Channing Tatum), a man she worked with on a project in Barcelona. A good samaritan (Michael Angarano) hands her the keys to his car, and the two speed off for Parts Unknown, Kane narrating her story to the mostly terrified teenager. The story is simple enough. Kane’s a contractor who works for a private firm that governments hire out to glean information, recover lost assets, rescue dissidents—spy business. She’s requested to be a member of a team extracting a hostage from Barcelona. Her boss, Jeremy (Ewan McGregor), is hesitant at first, but when his employers—U.S. governmental employee Alex Coblenz (Michael Douglas) and Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas), a man with no specific origin—agree to certain contractual details, Kane is put on the case, the hostage is rescued, and all is well. Or so it seems.
It happens that Jeremy’s business is wholly reliant upon Malory Kane and that, after the dissolution of their personal relationship, Kane is looking to get out of her business obligations with him, as well. First, he gets her to agree to an assignment that’s pretty much a “paid vacation,” a chance to persuade an agent to join Jeremy’s team while at the same time making contact with that agent’s mark under the guise of being a power couple. That agent, Paul (Michael Fassbender), has been assigned to kill the hostage Kane rescued, plant evidence on the body pointing to Kane, then kill her, making it look like an act of self-defense. Simple enough, except that Kane ends up killing him and going on the run, making her way back to the United States to clear her name, uncover the conspiracy against her, and gain a measure of revenge.
Haywire‘s frequent action set pieces are engaging, covering all the bases. Across rooftops, on foot, and behind the wheel of a car, it’s clear that there’s nobody like Malory Kane, who, when she is brought down, succumbs only to the sheer number of people set against her. Soderbergh’s films, regardless of how kinetic they often feel, rarely move like Haywire, which has a fluidity and clarity of vision rarely afforded to a typical thriller. There’s an effortless cool to the way he films Carano chasing down her prey, jumping from roof to roof, and employing her dazzling array of mixed martial arts maneuvers.
Speaking of Carano, this is her first feature film, though it would be surprising were this to prove her last. Carano is granted quite the set of crutches in Haywire: she’s guided by McGregor, Douglas, and Bill Paxton (as Kane’s father), prodded by Banderas, and romanced by Fassbender and the great lunkhead Tatum, who, given this film and his self-effacing turns in 21 Jump Street and Magic Mike, is perhaps smarter than anybody has yet to give him credit for. Though she sometimes looks out-of-depth when standing across from somebody the caliber of Michael Douglas—it’s worth pointing out that whatever charisma she possesses has, thus far, only been used in brief flashes during pre- and post-fight interviews and press conferences—she mostly holds her own.
It helps that Soderbergh is a director who’s proven masterful at identifying and exploiting the strengths of his cast. The choice of Carano in this role is no less unusual than, say, his choice of Sasha Grey as an escort, and Carano’s fighting skills are put to good use here, the reality of maneuvers like the cross armbreaker and the triangle choke only further embellishing the punishment she deals out. Tatum’s character has his arm broken in Haywire‘s opening sequence. Watching Carano swiftly grab his arm and snap it back, it’s little wonder that Tatum later appears in a cast, arm hanging useless at his side. Here, it’s the little flourishes of realism that matter, that paint Carano as a budding star as opposed to a neat little stunt casting. Like her character, it’s clear that Gina Carano can do things no other actress is capable of. So long as she avoids becoming a female Expendable, her presence in the genre can only change it for the better.
Haywire. With Gina Carano (Malory Kane), Channing Tatum (Aaron), Ewan McGregor (Jeremy), Bill Paxton (John Kane), Michael Fassbender (Paul), Michael Angarano (Scott), Antonio Banderas (Rodrigo), and Michael Douglas (Alex Coblenz). Directed by Steven Soderbergh from a screenplay by Lem Dobbs.