An action thriller about a female assassin might not be the kind of film we’d normally expect from director Steven Soderbergh, but in the context of his last ten films, we quickly realise that there is no such thing as a conventional Soderbergh picture. Though he’s best known for making Traffic, Erin Brokovich and the Ocean’s Eleven movies, Soderbergh has spent the last decade flitting between genres, with no subject matter too flimsy or heavy for his tastes. In between his mainstream blockbusters, he’s made a two-part biopic on Che Guevara, a low-budget film starring a porn star, a comedy about corporate malfeasance and a black-and-white mystery set in post-war Berlin. And considering that his next film is a romantic comedy about a male stripper, an action film starring MMA star Gina Carano makes complete sense.
Carano plays Mallory Kane, a highly trained ‘private contractor’ with a suitably bad-ass name. We quickly learn that she’s been betrayed by someone in her chain of command, which sends her running for her life. A highly skilled fighter in real life, Carano’s action scenes are shot in an unconventionally realistic way. Without the music and the exaggerated punching and kicking sounds that we’re accustomed to, the fights take on a new dimension, making them more exciting than we would ever expect.
The script by Lem Dobbs (The Limey) seems to be tailored around Carano’s range as an actress. Not much is asked of her in terms of emotional range, but she manages to hold her own in her scenes with the supporting cast. And WHAT a supporting cast it is! Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas and Channing Tatum all play antagonist to Carano while Michael Fassbender has a small turn as an MI-6 agent who gets into a tussle with her in a hotel bedroom. While Fassbender also had ways of seducing women in Shame, the outcome here is very different indeed.
While its fights are solid and the cast is star-studded, Haywire is ultimately let down by a less than compelling story. Perhaps Carano doesn’t quite sell her character’s desperation or maybe it’s because of the non-compelling central conspiracy involving a Chinese kidnap victim but we never feel fully invested in Mallory Kane. The trailer suggests a balls-to-the-wall thriller, but Soderbergh seems adamant on making a contemplative mood piece as well. The final product is neither of those things. Between the action choreography, the beautiful cinematography and the quality supporting cast, Haywire has all the ingredients for a great thriller but ultimately, the whole never exceeds (and barely meets) the sum of its parts.