Adventures In Celluloid

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things film.

Dominic Corry: Steven Soderbergh's overlooked action gem

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Ewan McGregor has a star turn in Steven Soderbergh's unsung gem Haywire. Photo/supplied
Ewan McGregor has a star turn in Steven Soderbergh's unsung gem Haywire. Photo/supplied

Recently I had an illuminating conversation with Kill List and Sightseers director Ben Wheatley, a write-up for which will be appearing in this space in the coming weeks.

When we'd finished talking about his movies, I asked if he'd enjoyed any new films lately. He thought about it for quite some time and offered only one title - Haywire, the Steven Soderbergh action thriller which recently went straight to DVD in this country following a less-than-stellar theatrical run in the States.

Haywire had been on my radar, but Wheatley's recommendation spurred me into action and I sat down to watch it a few days ago. And it rocked my world something awesome.

I perhaps put a little too much thought into the nature of the modern action movie, but Haywire is a worthy addition to the contemporary canon which manages to do something interesting in a post-Bourne action movie world.

The film was sold on something of a gimmick - an action-ready female lead character played by MMA fighter Gina Carano.

But this is no Charlie's Angels exercise in girl power - Carano is a fantastic leading lady whose gender is rarely the point of the story. She kicks ass just as capably as her male counterparts, and sighs in resignation whenever her good looks are addressed.

Carano plays Mallory Kane (great name!), a freelance black ops agent in great demand within the international intelligence community. Although the film begins with her already on the run, we flashback to see how she was double-crossed by her employers (specifically an awesomely slimy Ewan McGregor) and forced to go rogue.

I'm a great fan of the early work of director Steven Soderbergh, but he put me off with the congealed smugness of his Ocean's movies, and I've struggled to engage with his films since.

He's incredibly busy these days though, and recently enjoyed one of the biggest hits of his career with the stripper drama Magic Mike.

Haywire contains many classic Soderbergh-ian elements, like a jazzy score, agile editing and a fuzzy timeline. These elements have irked me in other Soderbergh films, but they come together nicely here. Haywire cruises along with the ease of the Ocean's movies, but it lacks that trilogy's sense of self-satisfaction.

In focusing his considerable filmmaking skills into a down-and-dirty spy movie, Soderbergh's shown me once again just how great he can be.

Haywire represents a reunion with screenwriter Lem Dobbs, with whom Soderbergh collaborated on the last film of his I really enjoyed - 1999's cult thriller The Limey.

Haywire is Soderbergh's first pure genre film since then, and if were up to me, he'd only make these kinds of movies from now on.

Soderbergh's confident style is put to great use in Haywire, and he manages to do some interesting things with the action scenes.

In the post-Bourne action landscape, hand-to-hand combat scenes are defined by fast editing and a lack of clarity. Just look at Taken 2 - everything's a blur.

In Haywire, the fight scenes are marked by a centred, clear directorial approach that allows you to perceive every move.

They are brutal scenes in which Carano ably demonstrates her physical prowess.

It's some of the best action I've seen in ages - every kick, punch and throw makes physical sense, and it's the swiftness of the stunt work, as opposed to the editing, that makes it all pop.

The playful score and variety of European locales lend the film an almost Avengers-ish quality at times, especially when Mallory is running around with an umbrella.

In the realm of international spy thrillers, Haywire has a relatively low-budget, but none of the set-pieces feel compromised, and a sense of stylish slickness permeates the proceedings.

Soderbergh must've called in a lot favours though, as Haywire has the strongest supporting cast this side of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Inglourious Basterds fans will get a kick out of seeing Michael Fassbender back in British secret agent mode, and his few scenes with Carano are among the film's best.

Michael Douglas pops up as a top American government guy, while the edges of the film are filled out by such heavyweight talents as Antonio Banderas; the aforementioned McGregor; Mathieu Kassovitz and erm, Channing Tatum. But he's good too.

One especially delightful casting treat comes in the form of genre icon Bill Paxton, who is right at home as Mallory's battle-ready father.

There are many ways things can go wrong when someone attempts to make an "arty" action movie, but Haywire rarely puts a foot wrong.

Be sure to check it out if you haven't - it's a fantastic addition to the modern action canon, and a great warm-up for Skyfall.

Seen Haywire? Thoughts? Soderbergh fan? Comment below!

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