Haywire begins with a woman sitting in a dinner. The music score, by David Holmes, gently evokes a form of '60s surf music. Shortly thereafter a fight breaks out. The woman's name is Mallory Kane, which evokes memories of Mickey and Mallory from Natural Born Killers, a murderous couple who also spent a lot of time in dinners. The film ends in part with an fight scene on a beach, which apes a scene in the script for Kill Bill that didn't make it to the screen, in which The Bride has an elaborate final duel with Bill. The first three-fourths of Haywire is told via an intricate structure in which the heroine is recounting the recent past to an innocent bystander whose car she has borrowed. In one scene Mallory subdues an opponent with her powerful thighs, which cites a moment in the Joseph Losey movie adaptation of Modesty Blaise, one of Tarantino's favorite book series.
In brief, Haywire is director Steven Soderbergh's master class in action filmmaker to that attention-grabbing upstate and fellow independent film forging pioneer Quentin Tarantino.
This is all speculative, of course. An alternative theory is that Tarantino is so influential and his unique approach to subject matter so marbled through current film culture that some of his tropes are going to invade action films intentionally or not.
Mallory is of course played by Gina Carano, a retired mixed martial arts competitor whose life story is well known. She is an authentic fighter and did many if not all of her own stunts, which also included climbing up the sides of buildings à la Bourne. She is also an unusual screen presence. She is pretty but not conventionally so, she is tallish for an American woman (five foot eight), she has stubby hands, and she is unusually voluptuous for – at least– a martial arts star. In some shots she seems to have a bit of a belly. These features make her endearingly real in the way that movie stars can, as opposed to super models.
Like many action directors, Soderbergh takes the opportunity offrered by the heightened "reality" of such films to play with the surface texture. At one point he performs an editing echo of a famous scene in Psycho in which the wife of the town sheriff is kept in the center of the frame despite the cutting back and forth between images. Here, the trick takes place at a soirée attended by Mallory, Fassbender's character, and master villain Mathieu Kassovitz.5 And as he frequently does, Soderbergh also visually quotes some of his favorite films from the '70s, especially those of Alan J. Pakula. As he did in Contagion, where he adapted a shot from Klute set in a fashion model's audition, here he quotes parking garage moments from Pakula's All the President's Men.
Soderbergh's "great theme" is the return after a time by a disgraced or absent figure to the lives of those left behind. His first feature, sex lies and videotape, enunciated this plot template first, but it has arise in most of his films, most dramatically in The Underneath, but even in his "entertainments," such as the Ocean's Eleven series, in which Danny Ocean keeps popping up back in the lives of his ex-wife, or his various nemeses. Here he takes the idea to an extreme. Mallory is supposed to be captured or dead. Instead, as with any vengeful action star, she is implacably plowing through her betrayers. Oregonian reviewer Michael Russell has a term for this kind of vengeance film, based on such examples as Taken, calling them "man as shark" movies, in which the driven hero feasts unstoppably on his opponents.
The result is an action film with unexpected depth, breadth, acting variety, and free of plot contrivance, while at the same time aspiring for a level of believability and authority that most acton films forsake in favor of compensating humor.
1 … who maintains his "wide eyed moron" school of acting. Mr. McGregor is one of the poorest actors on today's screens.
2 Both of these two actors are also directors, as well.
3 Or is it Tatum Channing Tatum? He seems to be in every movie, yet I can never remember him from one film to another; another reviewer came me the visual equivalent of a mnemonic device. Unlike, say, Sam Worthington, Tatum is the one with the ears that stick out like Mr. Potato Head.
4 Between Mr. McGregor and Mr. Fassbender alone the penile strength of the film is off the charts.
5 Soderbergh both photographed the movie under the pseudonym Peter Andrews and also edited it under the screen credit Mary Ann Bernard.