Director Steven Soderbergh is some kind of speed demon. Either that or he doesn’t sleep. On his IMDB page, he’s listed as having 34 Directorial Credits since his 1985 debut in video documentary (Doing the math, that translates to roughly 1.26 releases per year as director). And that doesn’t include the Production Credits (33), the Cinematography Credits (18), Editor Credits (12), etc. etc. Some are duplicate credits, yet on a whole, this man has had his hand in an incredible volume of works.
As I look over Mr. Soderbergh’s myriad credits and story genres, it appears his 2011 directed movie Haywire represents the first full foray into action/adventure territory. He’s worked in and around the genre before, perhaps most notably in the very successful caper/comedy Oceans 11, 12, etc. films, but, as I said before, this may well be the first time he’s fully hit at this particular genre.
When Haywire was originally released, I really wanted to see it, although for reasons that are unique to me. You see, I released this novel called Mechanic back in 2009 that features a protagonist that, to my mind’s eye, wound up looking exactly like Haywire’s protagonist Mallory Kane, as played by actress and mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano, someone who up until the film’s release I had no knowledge about. She is the movie’s main draw and is present in almost every scene. This is certainly quite a challenge for a first time actress, especially when you are tasked to not only perform your own stunts (which she handled quite well), but also act with such seasoned veterans as Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Bill Paxton, and Antonio Banderas.
Looking at the film’s overall reviews on RottenTomatoes.com (you can read it here), the movie wound up scoring a very curious split. A whopping 80% of critics gave the film a “thumbs up” compared to a far more anemic 41% approval from audiences. Thus, it appears that Haywire was a critical darling but casual movie goers weren’t quite as impressed.
So what did I think?
To begin, Mr. Soderbergh and Ms. Carano provide a potent mix. If you come into the film looking for some bone crunching fight scenes, I can’t see how you walk away from the movie disappointed. But be aware that this film is most certainly an “old school” type action film. There are no flashy special effects. There are no epilepsy-inducing Michael Bay-like jump cuts. There are no super-heroics. The fights are presented for the most part in long, reasonably realistic takes. There is exactly one car chase, but it too is presented reasonably naturally, with no cars performing incredible leaps or crashes.
Which may explain why audiences which by now are accustomed to big scale action films along the lines of a Fast Five or The Avengers might not react so positively to a movie on a much smaller scale like Haywire. Frankly, I appreciate the effort, even though I think the film, in the end, was simply not as successful as I hoped it would be.
However, during its first hour or so, it most certainly was. I was instantly drawn into the movie’s story and the plight of Ms. Carano’s tough as nails Mallory. Ms. Carano’s performance, the lynchpin of the movie, was pretty damn good. She more than held her own against the seasoned actors she was up against and made for a compelling hero.
But after that first hour, the film simply lost steam. The plot, featuring undercover operative Mallory’s betrayal after a “job”, was pretty standard stuff, even though Mr. Soderbergh gave it as much pizzazz as he could. The film’s greatest sin was its lack of a compelling climax. An action film, in my mind, should build as it goes along. The final act, in particular, should be smashing. Not only did Haywire not have a “smashing” ending, it committed the even greater sin of concluding on a decidedly abrupt note that left me even more unsatisfied.
Ultimately, Haywire is about 2/3rd of a very, very good old school style action film. I just wish Mr. Soderbergh and the screenwriters could have fashioned a more fulfilling and satisfying climax and given us a film that ended with a bang rather than a whimper.