Haywire Can’t Make Up its Mind

Haywire contains my all-time favorite shot of a father’s reaction to seeing his daughter murder a person with her knee. It’s a moment of relatable emotional behavior in a movie that otherwise forgoes relatability in favor of cliché, a moment which gives us permission to forget narrative context and simply be appalled by the fact that one human body can contain and release enough energy to break another human body beyond repair.

This shot (and the moment of reflection it encourages) represents both the best and worst of Haywire. This is a contradictory movie, one that seems either not to know what realism is or to be only half-interested in it. Its fight scenes are often silent save for the sounds of bodies slamming into walls and feet into chests. But its world is one of music-video editing and dreamscape lighting. Soderbergh keeps “the camera in lockdown” so we can carefully watch Gina Carano kick the shit out of Michael Fassbender, but shrouds plot-heavy conversations in silhouette and shoves the coloring every which way he can.

In one scene, Gina Carano’s Mallory sprints towards the camera for what feels like an eternity, chasing some Spaniard through brightly lit Barcelona streets while an old-school score delights in her speed. When she catches her prey, the music fades out and is replaced by sparse grunts of effort and pain, but the scene takes on an unnatural yellow-green hue for the duration of the beating.

This is the paradox of Haywire. It wants to be stylized and to be realistic. It wants to impress us and to disgust us. It wants Gina Carano to be a movie star but makes her read the corniest dialogue a body could dream up. It surrounds its endearing rookie with a seriously overqualified cast but fails to allow any of them to be interesting.

Except for Antonio Banderas. I would watch him watching Haywire a hundred times if it meant I’d get to see him grin even just once.

All this isn’t to say that the movie isn’t fun. It really, truly is. It has enough clever camerawork, pretty colors, and well-choreographed thuds/smacks/crashes/whumps/cracks to largely outweigh the aspects that are completely unoriginal or uninteresting. There are moments, like the one mentioned above, that are sublime: a fight on a beach in the final act is for the eyes what one of these is for the scalp; Channing Tatum is a good actor, giving a particularly good performance (does it count as a spoiler if the film is 6 years old?) when his character dies.

But these gifts are small, scattered, and not quite united under anything that feels like a worthwhile whole. Haywire is conflicted, and not even to a meaningful end. But I’m not going to spend my concluding paragraph talking about tonal dissonance, because I would be completely missing the point of a movie like Haywire if I did something like that. Because Haywire is much simpler than that. Haywire is a film about Gina Carano being entirely out of place amongst a bunch of Hollywood stars, and beating them up when she can’t beat them at their own games (deception, conspiracy, acting).

Haywire is fine and Haywire is fun. It isn’t really interested in much of anything, so it isn’t really interesting. It does what it sets out to do, which is to build a film around Carano. Everything is in service to her, from the by-the-book plot to the cast of male doofuses whose asses she kicks. Soderbergh apparently made this movie with one goal: to make Carano look cool for 90 minutes. He did it (except for the cornrows and war paint).

Richard’s Theory of Soderbergh: Version 0.0.1 (Alpha release)

Soderbergh wants to tell the stories of people who are great at what they do, and he wants to tell stories of them succeeding. He wants us to see those people in their elements, doing what they do best, but he wants us to see them how he sees them. By creating vivid environments that border on the hyperreal, he brings us into an impressionistic understanding of his subject matter and implies that effect is more interesting than reality.