Between Katniss Everdeen and Mallory Kane, there's hope for smart and strong big-screen action heroines yet.
While Jennifer Lawrence's bow-wielding “The Hunger Games” protagonist continues to dominate the box office, mixed-martial arts slugger Gina Carano's ex-Marine-turned-mercenary-for-hire is sprinting onto Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday in Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh's unfortunately little-seen espionage flick “Haywire.”
For moviegoers who got queasy from the shaky-camera battles in “The Hunger Games” or have wearied of the Michael Bay style of bombastic, implausible, jump-cut action sequences, Soderbergh offers a perfectly hard-hitting antidote with “Haywire.”
The maverick filmmaker built the film around Carano's impressive Muay Thai kickboxing skills, and he compensates for her acting inexperience by surrounding her with A-list men: Channing Tatum as a fellow freelance covert operative, Ewan McGregor as their boss and Mallory's former lover, Antonio Banderas, and Michael Douglas as the government officials willing to pay big bucks for their services, Michael Fassbender as a British agent who teams with Mallory on an ill-fated mission, and Bill Paxton as Mallory's former soldier/novelist father. All of them demonstrate a willingness to get beaten up by, or at least play second banana to, a woman and an eagerness to work with the “Traffic” helmer.
Taking his cues from 1960s and '70s spy movies, screenwriter Lem Dobbs, who also penned Soderbergh's well-reviewed 1999 crime drama “The Limey,” provides a slick, businesslike story that gets the job done without trying to rewrite the genre. Besides his interesting use of natural light and composer David Holmes' jazzy score, which is dropped in favor of the visceral sounds of fists and kicks landing during the fights, Soderbergh doesn't add many frills. For the most part, the lean thriller doesn't need them, but a bit of the charming humor of the director's “Ocean's Eleven” and its sequels would pleasantly warm the often-chilly proceedings.
But the refreshingly realistic action scenes are the movie's reason for being, and the filmmaker showcases them in long, steady tracking shots that are a welcome change from the usual furiously edited, computer-generated graphics-enhanced on-screen brawls. After all, Soderbergh isn't trying to convince us that some slender waif has the unlikely capabilities to take down full-grown men: He has Carano, who actually has the strength and skills to do just that, making her an action heroine worth watching.
Bonus features: Digital copy and two behind-the-scenes featurettes.
— Brandy McDonnell