Review: Haywire

Haywire. (15) Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Starring Gina Carana, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas and Channing Tatum. 90 mins. ***

Apart from being an elegant espionage action romp that mixes the jaded air of Tinker Tailor with the frenetic fisticuff of Bourne, the most appealing thing about Haywire is its lopsided cast which has some big name male performers cast in support of an unknown female.

Carana was a mixed martial arts star who was also once on American Gladiators. Her face seems like a composite of various female stars, a bit of everyone from Linda Fiorentino to Rachel Weisz to Britney Spears. There probably isn’t an excess ounce on her toned body but compared to the skeletal waifs, those fearsomely diminished ladies we are accustomed to seeing on screen, initially she seems almost cumbersome; like eyes becoming accustomed to the dark after entering a cinema, it may take a minute or two to adjust to seeing a normal healthy sized woman on screen.

She plays a private sector undercover operative and for someone with almost no previous big screen experience she is remarkably assured and fun to watch. She’s around 95 per cent a screen natural, but it’s the other five per cent that makes her interesting, the moments it seems like an ordinary woman has wandered onto the screen. A lot of the film’s tension comes less from her attempts to stay alive and get her revenge on the employer who double crossed her as from the jarring inaptness of having this strange interloper share scenes with such a prestigious cast and quite often giving them a most fearsome beating.

Haywire is the latest in a run of rather highfalutin films (Limits of Control, The American, Hanna) that pare down the action thriller to its basics until the whole process is rendered almost absurd. The movie is both high brow superior to its thriller format while colluding with the audience’s low brow desire to cut to the chase.

It’s a bogus conceit but Soderbergh, who has no real history as an action director, takes the opportunity to give you the works. Each of the crisply shot action sequence has its own distinct style. Some are rapidly cut but others are captured in long unbroken takes, taking full advantage of having a star that rarely needs a stunt double. You are thrown into the heart of the action but often at an oblique angle. When it isn’t racing along on adrenaline, the film is focusing on men in rooms arguing over budgets and financial packages. It’s a neat mix of breathless and playing it cool.