(Steven Soderbergh, 2011)
Steven Soderbergh is such a professional, so technically gifted, so intelligent, and so interested in cinema. It seems at times he can do anything. His career has spanned genres and styles, and he more or less excels in each of them. But I think the intellectual in Soderbergh sometimes sabotages the commercial filmmaker. Instead of a classic "one for them, one for me" strategy, he combines the two, crafting big studio-funded genre entertainments with their own hidden agendas and themes. Oceans 12 is perhaps the best example. A sequel to Soderbergh's purest entertainment (and biggest hit) filled with megastars and at massive expense, Soderbergh turns out an utterly post-modern compendium of sketches and set-pieces loosely linked by a baffling, almost mockingly complex plot in which the cast get to mug, enjoy Europe, and play themselves, while Soderbergh indulges in some beautiful stylistic experiments.
Haywire is another Soderbergh experiment. Driven here to put MMA fighter Gina Carano in a movie, he fills the cast with male stars for her to batter, then has old collaborator Lem Dobbs write a non-linear espionage tale to link the fight and chase sequences.
His interest is plainly in those action sequences, and they are correspondingly terrific. Avoiding the immediacy of the handheld-and-fastcutting style (best seen in the Bourne films) Soderbergh instead displays Carano's acumen by shooting mid-shots and editing only when necessary. We see her pull off these flips and kicks and Soderbergh's shot choices let us know instantly that its real as we see her execute moves only a real expert would even attempt. That those moves are integrated into fights which are brutal, plausible and thrilling is one of the joys of the movie. These fight scenes have real impact - when Soderbergh does cut during hand-to-hand combat, he does it either for a purely narrative reason (so we can tell exactly what is going on) or for maximum visceral effect. When Carano kicks Michael Fassbender straight through a door in the middle of the most viscious of these fights, Soderbergh shoots that in two set-ups, wih one quick cut between them. And we feel that door go. Furniture and bones break, and Carano has to earn every victory.
There are a few adrenalinised chase sequences here too, but it is in the dialogue scenes in-between that the intellectual in Soderbergh - and in Dobbs - is most evident. There's something a little too arch and removed about all the exposition and the way the generic characters are established, something secretly arty in the absence of establishing shots and off-hand loingo, something a bit reminiscent of Anton Corbjin's The American, something a little ashamed of fully embracing the pulp world this tale belongs in.
That is no problem for me; I love movies that sit firmly where the art house meets the pulp genres, but I can see it preventing Haywire from being any sort of hit.
Who cares, though? There are numerous other pleasures here. If Carano is a little stiff in some of her scenes, she is thrillingly, obviously utterly convincing in motion. That cast of hunks are all solid - Tatum and McGregor get the most to do, and both do it very well - the locations are atmospherically sketched in (though it was odd for this Dublin boy to see the banal familiarity of his hometown become the venue for SWAT pursuits and rooftop chases), Soderbergh's photography (under his pseudonym Peter Andrews) is stylish and lovely throughout, and David Holmes' update of a Lalo Schifrin score is magnificent.