Mallory (Gina Carano) is a freelance contractor employed by the American government for secret agent-style covert assignments. She’s contracted through a private firm, directed by Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), but soon finds herself at odds with the firm because of some good old-fashioned inside scheming. Eventually, she’s out on her own and up against incredible odds (the government) and has to use her own skills and instincts to survive.
And god damn it, does it ever work like magic. I mean, as stated earlier, the plot might be confusing and it’s no exaggeration that the synopsis above can’t be fleshed out any more for fear of spoiling the film, but so long as the narrative itself isn’t entirely broken, it serves as a good excuse as any to present us with some fantastic fight scenes.
See how fantastic it is?
Now, while not being the most creative fights in recent years, the brawls that highlight Haywire are, without a doubt, some of the most dynamic we’ve seen in a while – especially in terms of Western cinema. David Holmes’ jazzy score is instantly muted on the first punch thrown, and so the soundtrack we’re supplied is nothing more than the rhythm of both fighters going at it. It lends itself to a much more realistic feel, and fits the tone very well.
But it’s worth noting that not only is Carano the first action heroine to convincingly kick a man across the room, but she’s also the first woman protagonist to get badly beaten during some of her fights. If you’re on the squeamish side, then you might find yourself wincing, especially during her intro battle, which pretty much amounts to her being on the receiving end of a proverbial curb stomping.
It’s something that we don’t see very often when we have women beating the bad guys – realism. Every punch and every kick thrown has that unmistakable sense of oomph behind it; the kind of engaging, visceral thud that makes you cringe inside. Each technique seems like it hurts, and each one seems rooted in pragmatism.
That is to say, for the most part. MMA and fancy choreography are tricky to make work together since you’re trying to make something brutal and relatively efficient look fancy. For example, you might roll your eyes when you see a cross-body armbar used to defend against a gun – especially when it requires that you ensure that the gun is pointed at your face. However, these directorial misses are few and far between, and don’t detract from the final product.
Now, all that said, Haywire is of course not a film that is ultimately infallible, as casting a camera-shy pro fighter as your heroine is a bit of a double-edged sword. Yes, you can make this whole idea “bullet proof” by having an “amateur” play a relatively simple killing machine, but it still manages to fall a little flat. When you write a character who’s main motivation is “I kill stuff,” you also require a kind of nuance to be able to make your character convincing. Something about Mallory feels a bit too “cool,” a little too artificial, but hey, it’s papered over in the best way possible, so you know, “whatever, bro.”
Yes, “whatever” indeed.
Besides, as I’ve said before, all this fancy schmancy “objective analysis” takes the back seat to what’s slightly more alluring.
Let’s put it this way: The main draw to this film is seeing the leading lady beat up – well, everybody. You could say that it’s been done before, but it’s never quite been done in a manner so authentic. Haywire stands on its own as a spy-thriller B-Movie that’s got that Steven Soderbergh sheen all over it. Pacing and acting issues aside, it’s still an undeniably fun ride that isn’t trying to be anything that it’s not. It’s just a hard-hitting serving of action that’s aimed at showcasing the talents of one of MMA’s finest. Just take it for what it is.
But if you’re anything like me, be sure to wear loose-fitting pants.