Steven Soderbergh is an interesting filmmaker, his career peppered with small experimental pieces to full on blockbusters. From Sex Lies & Videotape to Out of Sight and from Che to the Ocean’s movies, it is impressive to see a director avidly tackle every avenue the medium has to offer, even if there are many of his films that have either faded into obscurity or were flat-out crap (eg: Full Frontal, The Informant and Solaris).
In a similar move that saw Traffic and Erin Brockovich released the same year, Soderbergh has delivered Contagion and Haywire within four months of each other (with his next project, Magic Mike, prepped for a June release date). Whilst many of his directorial sensibilities are present in both, Contagion and Haywire are two wildly different films, about a worldwide pandemic and betrayed private mercenary respectively.
It’s a testament to the man that he can pull off this switch between genres without so much as a look back. Haywire is undoubtedly a Soderbergh movie that can firmly stand proud next to the best of this type of thriller. Call it Bourne with sass, Gina Carano’s Mallory Kane is as ruthless as she is sexy, dedicated to her vocation as a contracted mercenary with cold-hearted professionalism. Her hard-nosed mentality seldom trembles.
Whilst the ins and outs of the wider conspiracy that makes the plot is complex, the meat of the story sees Carano being betrayed by those she works for. With both her former employers and the authorities after her, she must survive long enough to know the why’s of her betrayal and who’s responsible, whilst decking the shit out of anyone stupid enough to get in the way.
Thrillers these days often fall into generic cut-n-paste trappings that have diluted the genre to a state of mediocrity (see The Burma Conspiracy). Haywire could have very easily fallen into these trappings, helped in no small part by the blatant unoriginality of its narrative or that Soderbergh has made as many duds as he has greats. We’ve seen much of Haywire before, most notably in its similarities with the Bourne franchise (Mallory Kane often has an uncanny ability to think three steps ahead of her adversaries and is adept in using inanimate objects as weapons).
Yet Haywire‘s trump card is its ability to remind us that these antics are popular for a reason. When done well, the smarts of Haywire come off with an effortless cool despite their familiarity, eschewing the blockbuster sensibilities of fellow high profile thrillers for Soderbergh’s eye for independent filmic techniques and 70’s chic. Shots are frequently static and the edit free of ADD cutting, allowing the film to take a measured pace, even during the often brutal fight sequences. The slap-bass and funk guitars of the soundtrack further emphasise the film’s cool, helped also by the dialogue-driven rapport between the protagonists. The film has a seductive quality, a knack of drawing its audience in based solely on its charisma. The obligatory fist fights and car chases almost feel irrelevant.
For whatever reason, Haywire works better than it should. It’s smooth and savvy and has an abundance of snappy dialogue amongst the snapping bones. The prerequisite plot twists are predictable yet Soderbergh and crew play each genre convention with added panache. The result is often exhilarating.