Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Haywire (2011)

Like a bear in hibernation, I rarely venture out to a movie theater in the first few months of the year. After all, I’m not a professional critic, I’m a hobbyist, and the months from January through early spring are notorious for turning local theaters into landfills for last year’s leftovers. But if Haywire--a January release I just caught up with--is someone's idea of leftovers, I wish we'd see more like it.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh from a script by Lem Dobbs, Haywire delivers the kind of rogue agent story you'd find in a Bourne movie, except in this case the agent in question isn't Matt Damon or another Hollywood leading man, but Gina Carano, a real-life MMA fighter. Far from the damsel-in-distress type, Carano's steely athleticism brings to mind another heavy-hitter: the Hulk, from this summer's smash-hit, The Avengers. Different in many ways--she's not green, for one--part of the fun of watching Haywire is waiting for Carano to turn. Beneath her unassuming facade is a woman of animal instincts and precision. Of course we want to see what happens to her, but mainly we just want to see the gloves come off.

When they do, it's nice having Soderbergh at the helm. His workmanlike precision adds a crackle to Carano's pop, imbuing Haywire with a controlled energy. He knows how to keep things moving, but he also knows when to get out of the way and let Carano do her thing. Even though Haywire only earned $18 million domestically, I wish more directors would follow Soderbergh's lead. Where others would rely on shaking the camera or use quick cuts to convey action, Soderbergh's fight scenes are clearly staged and photographed. We don't have to wonder what's going on because we can see it all right in front of us. The result is more than just sustained tension--it's awe. Filmmakers look to CGI for that all the time, when really, you can look a lot closer than that, at us.

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