AFI Fest Review: Haywire Lacks Originality, But Has More Than Enough Ass-Kicking To Compensate

Gina Carano is not an actress. She’s never going to win an Academy Award and, should the fates see fit, her debut film, the Steven Soderbergh-directed Haywire could be the only movie she ever makes. What Gina Carano is, however, is a fighter. She has power and skills to decimate absolutely any opponent and can make fully-grown men look like pre-pubescent school girls. As a result, one can’t call Haywire a cinematic masterpiece, but it is a ridiculously entertaining, ass-kicking action movie.

In the film Carano stars as Mallory Kane, an elite black ops agent at the top of her game. After being sent on a mission by her handler, Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), she finds herself set up and with a huge target on her back. Thus begins a mission of revenge as Mallory takes down not only the people she knows that are directly involved, but the person at the very top responsible for the entire operation.

The element that truly stands out about Haywire is Soderbergh’s willingness to replace the hyper-stylized aesthetic used in so many action films these days with a dose of realism. All of the fights in the movie are pure rough-and-tumble, the characters not executing ancient martial arts, but instead just beating the ever-loving crap out of each other. A fight between Carano and Michael Fassbender in the middle of the movie not only doesn’t feel overly-choreographed, but rather looks like Sodbergh put the two in the room and said, “You two fight and whoever wins will determine how the rest of the plot works out.”

While Carano is truly the star of the movie, she has a fantastic supporting cast, all of whom successfully do a stellar job with smaller parts. Both Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas play the big-wigs behind the scenes perfectly, while even Channing Tatum, as Mallory’s partner on one of her last missions, pulls his own weight. The best performance, though, is given by McGregor, who plays Kenneth halfway between slimy mastermind and insecure ex-boyfriend. He succeeds in moving the plot forward and being a realistic foil for Mallory while also providing some of the film’s more lighthearted moments.

Through and through the movie is a Steven Soderbergh movie, which only makes it more fascinating. Though the plot and characters make the audiences search for Luc Besson’s name in the closing credits, Haywire’s cinematography and score are unmistakable (hell, even the font in the title cards scream the filmmaker’s name). Throughout his career Sodberbergh has demonstrated a penchant for eclecticism – we must remember that we are only two months removed from Contagion - but all of his movies have maintained an aesthetic through line. This new film continues that tradition in spectacular fashion.

Steven Soderbergh readily admits that Haywire was reverse engineered after the filmmaker witnessed one of Gina Carano’s bouts as an MMA fighter and decided that he wanted her to star in one of his movies. As a result the script by Lem Dobbs is fairly clichéd and unoriginal, but watching the movie that fact drifts to the back of your mind. Instead movie-goers will find themselves absolutely mesmerized by Carano’s incredible knack for beating the living hell out of her fellow performers. Haywire is pure, high-octane entertainment.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.