“HAYWIRE” – 4 STARS

One the surface, a movie advertised as an action film starring a female MMA fighter and one time American Gladiator doesn’t exactly raise my anticipation level. But seeing the name Steven Soderbergh attached to the movie changed that. Many moviegoers who are unfamiliar with Soderbergh and who go see “Haywire” strictly due to the movie trailer may go away a little disappointed. I found the movie to be an entertaining and stylistic action thriller tightly wrapped in a snug 90 minute package.

Soderbergh’s fingerprints are all over “Haywire” and that’s one of the main reasons the movie works so well. Not only did he direct and shoot the picture but he also edited it and it doesn’t take long to notice his sharp visual style. While Lem Dobbs’ story is smart and concise, it’s Soderbergh who engages the audience with clever camera angles, several tension-filled long takes, and his strategic use of music and sound. He tells the story without many of the contrived devices we see in most modern action pictures. There aren’t loads of blood and constant gunfire. But there are some great hand-to-hand fight scenes where the camera pulls back, the music stops, and the audience is allowed to take it all in. It’s the perfect approach.

Another huge plus is the impressive and memorable lead acting debut of Gina Carano. Her character is pretty straightforward and doesn’t require a lot of range, but Carano holds her own with the strong supporting cast featuring Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum, and Bill Paxton. She plays Mallory Kane, an ex-Marine who does contract black-ops work for Kenneth Jay (McGregor) a slimey character with government contacts. Kenneth teams her up with a suave British Agent (Fassbender) for a mission in Dublin. It would spoil things to go much more into detail but let’s just say things don’t go as planned.

The supporting cast is strong and polished, just as you would expect. But it’s Carano who gets the bulk of the screen time and she nails it. One of the best things is that she actually sells her character. Unlike many of the fashion show runway models we often see in lead roles, I had no trouble believing the more full-formed Carano was an ex-Marine or that she could kick some serious butt. And while she is larger than life in many respects, there are certain touches that made her more believable. There is one particular chase scene where she is running on the rooftops and she actually gets turn around. She doesn’t know which way to go and has to backtrack. It’s a small and subtle detail but the film is filled with them.

“Haywire” isn’t your typical January release. Often times January and February movies are those that get pushed back after awards season. But this a really fun and well crafted picture. It’s a film that causes the audience to think and stay focused from start to finish, yet it’s a thrilling and fun ride that uses style over cliche. It’s a fast moving and compact story and Soderbergh’s direction keeps everything running smooth. I enjoyed “Haywire” and it’s a really good way to start the movie year.

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