Director Steven Soderberg’s unorthodox but rewarding attempt at a female-driven action spectacular, Haywire, is available this week on Blu-ray from Lionsgate. Featuring Gina Carano as a no-bullshit government contract agent forced to turn rogue after her own department betrays her, Haywire also boasts an impressive supporting cast including Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Ewan McGregor, and the amazingly-still-alive Michael Douglas.
Mallory Kane (Carano) is a black ops agent and former marine, contracted by the U.S. government to accomplish covert missions requiring high degrees of physical and mental agility, as well as high degrees of secrecy. When a botched information-gathering assignment ends with Mallory self-defensively offing an ostensible compatriot, she is forced to flee the scene under threat of possible arrest and trial for murder. Convinced the betrayal that led up to the slaying, and its subsequent bureaucratic witch hunt, were orchestrated from within her own department, Mallory sets out to blaze a cross-country trail of ass-kicking destruction that she hopes will eventually leave her vindicated, and her enemies dead, in prison, or at least severely maimed.
Action films tend to be split down the middle into two distinct and occasionally overlapping traditions – those driven by restrained and cerebral political intrigue, peppered with an occasional assassination or car chase, and the more standard Hollywood variety propelled by cartoonishly balls-out fight sequences full of improbable mixed martial arts, neato science fictiony gadget things, and megatons of explosions. Action movies with female protagonists almost invariably fall into the latter category, maybe because the intrinsic possibilities for cleavage-maximizing, skintight leather cat suits and mouthwatering aerial gymnastics can thereby be more freely exploited.
Haywire doesn’t exactly go the typical route, although it’s definitely dominated more by impressive visual displays than by intricate story structure. Carano is gorgeous, but she’s also a professional mixed martial artist, and performed all her own stunts for the film a la Van Damme or Segal. Soderberg’s choice of a female lead with an athletic background and competent physical skills, and the director’s relatively restrained, un-augmented approach to the action sequences themselves, makes Haywire a unique and fresh take on an essentially familiar genre trope. Its action sequences are impressive, but they’re also naturalistic enough to feel actually plausible, as opposed to the fantastical amplification that’s typical for the subgenre. The intensity of the action combined with its straightforward presentation give the movie a calm, confident, balanced energy that makes it stylistically interesting as well as entertaining.
The disc’s special features are not extensive, but it does include a couple of interesting short featurettes about how the project came together (no commentary track, though, unfortunately). Haywire isn’t the strongest film of Soderberg’s career, but it’s definitely an entertaining film, as well as a worthwhile and successful genre experiment.