Saturday, January 28, 2012

Better Than Bourne

Haywire is the latest effort from cinematic chameleon Steven Soderberg. Having previously dabbled in everything from glamourous Hollywood crime capers (Ocean's Eleven) to gritty Oscar-winning drug dramas (Traffic) and even a four and a half hour biopic about the world's most famous Equadorian revolutionary (Che), his latest transformation is one that few people would have anticipated. America's answer to Michael Winterbottom, Soderberg is known just as much for his prolificness as he is for the style of his output. But with Haywire he demonstrates a sure hand and is completely convincing as a competent action director.

This is in no small part due to the ferocious physicality and fluent grace of his female lead. Unlike so many of the leading ladies cast as action heroines, who look as if a stiff breeze might blow them over, Gina Carano looks like she could do some real damage. This is probably in no small part due to her training and previous career in mixed martial arts - apparently Soderberg designed the film around what Carano could actually do and, like Tom Cruise, she did all of her own stunts... The only difference being, in the case of Carano, I actually believe the line.

The plot is basic B-movie fare: bad men - a private security contractor played by Ewan McGregor, having a pretty good crack at an American accent for once, and a CIA chief played by Michael Douglas, back to his slimy best - want a political prisoner retrieved and Mallory Kane, played by the aforementioned Gina Carano, is just the woman to do it. Of course, things are not that simple, allegiances are betrayed, doubles are crossed and Malerie finds herself on the run, hunting and being hunted by the bad men who betrayed her.

The heart of the film, however, are its action sequences. When she finds herself in confrontations with regular hoods and mobsters, Navy Seal-trained Mallory is fast and lethal. But it is when she comes up against a combatant of equal capability that things get really fun. When she hits Michael Fassbender in the face, he knows about it. Likewise, when he throws her into a plasma television screen. This is a fight between equals with a delicious subtext, taking place as it does in a Parisian hotel bedroom. Not that this is cartoonish fare - in one sequence Mallory misses the jump between one roof and enough and winds herself in the process. This is the sort of detail that lends what could easily be risible and air of credibility that encourages one to suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride.

Crucially, Soderberg also knows where to find his tripod. For the most part, the fights, along with most of the rest of the action - the running, the jumping, the driving - are shot in wide masters, with only occasional cuts for emphasis. Unlike the Paul Greengrass directed Bourne films, which are edited so frenetically it is often hard to figure out who is where and what they are doing, Soderberg has the confidence to let his stars show us what they can do.

Soderberg also surrounds Carano with a review of recognisable thesps - Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender, Bill Paxton - handling acting duties. Although, Carano herself is no slouch - an engaging screen presence who looks just as good in high-heels as she does kicking a man in the face - what is not to like?


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