Friday, 27 January 2012


Haywired For Sound

Haywire 2012 USA/Ireland
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Screening at UK cinemas.

Warning: Ever so slight spoilers in
this one... not really spoilers as such.

Okay... so I’m always a bit undecided on Steven Soderbergh as a director. I remember seeing a programme covering the Cannes Film Festival which he won with Sex, Lies and Videotape and I also remember seeing the movie in question at the cinema a little while later and rating it highly (though it’s been years since I saw it). But for every Sex, Lies and Videotape he’s directed, he’s also made, what are for me, huge missteps in direction when it comes to film choices and many of his movies I’ve just plain refused to see.

For instance... if I want to see a Rat Pack film then I’ve got the original Ocean’s Eleven. Honestly, why would I want to see a remake of such when it doesn’t even feature Sammy Davis Jr dancing with trash can lids? Similarly, and perhaps more seriously... why in heck would you get it into your head to make an adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris when, frankly, the 1972 version by “the poet of cinema” Andrei Tarkovsky is the definitive last word on what that movie could ever be. Seriously... Tarkovsky’s Solaris is one of the greatest pieces of cinematic art ever made... leave it the heck alone and certainly don’t make a movie where the running time is almost half the length of the original... Solaris is the last movie you’d want to whittle down in the edit. Might as well remake Star Wars or The Third Man.

The few films I have seen by Soderbergh... Sex, Lies and Videotape, The Limey and Full Frontal... were all pretty great movies, especially The Limey, which is a major motion picture event in its own right.

Which brings me neatly on to Haywire because it wasn’t until I saw the credits roll at the start that I realised that this one was written by the same writer, Lem Dobbs, who had done such a fantastic job with The Limey. Now, Haywire is a different kind of film, to be sure... but it’s still quite a cool experience and Soderbergh really comes into his own again on this one by showing what a great eye he has for the way the shots are framed. Even during the action sequences which are, to be fair, really all that the movie comprises of, the shot set ups are beautiful to look at and would not been nearly as arresting in the hands of some of the other directors who are competent with the visual language of the action thriller.

Haywire follows the character of Mallory, played by Gina Carano, a hitwoman/secret agent kind o’ gal who has been set up by her ex-lover and former employee (played by Ewan McGregor) to take the terminal fall for... I dunno, something political I guess. Mallory has other ideas of course and as she does her one woman Jason-Bourne-goes-for-payback-time act to get back at McGregor and find out who’s at the top of the chain, she encounters such established actors as Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas and Michael Fassbender as she runs, jumps and shoots her way in and out of trouble.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this movie is that it is a big, dumb action movie. There are definite allusions to a deeper intelligence in the script which works hand-in-hand with the overall miasma of the cloak and dagger of the subject matter to give this movie the appearance of being something a little more smart than it actually is... but this certainly doesn’t posess the ice cold, hard nosed intelligence of Adam Hall’s Quiller novels, or even something slightly less challenging by John Le Carre or Len Deighton. But it does filter the atmosphere and dialogue hits of those kinds of books (and movies) to pull the wool over the audiences eyes in terms of the actual simplicity of the story and this is what helps lend credence to the movie as a more intelligent level of thriller... when really it’s actually no more intelligent than something like The Transporter or Taken.

Now I’m not knocking either of those films (love ‘em both) but this movie still seems to have a certain “spy chill” in its make-up and a lot of this chill comes from having actors who can speak these kinds of lines without investing them with too much emotion. Everyone is just a little bit understated and muffled in their characters and this plays rather nicely against the scenes where Gina Carano is fighting for her survival and clawing her way through the chain of people.

The first half of the movie follows a fight sequence where Mallory grabs a guy and his car and starts to tell him all the things that have been happening recently and detailing her betrayal to this “civilian” so that he can talk to the police. The second half of the movie catches us back up to the present and then becomes a race to the finish line as Mallory lays a trap in her fathers house (played by Bill Paxton in a role in which he is a nice kinda guy for once) and springs it near the end of the movie.

Respect, also, to Soderbergh for treating the musical score of the movie with the gravitas it deserved and actually let it effectively carry some of the load. The score by someone I’d not heard of called David Holmes is really deft and jazzy and Soderbergh turns the sound effects right down during most of the action scenes to allow the music to breathe on its own and do its job. This was a really good and positive decision and I wish more directors were doing stuff like this. In fact the sound design in this one was impressive all round. Nice work!

I do have to say though that, despite the allusions to a more intelligent plot line lurking at the edges of the scenes, the film is really quite predictable in a lot of places... especially the action sequences. For instance, the opening sequences set in a diner are not so smart as the film tries it’s best to convince you that it’s not about to leap into a glossy action fight... but you pretty much know when one of the characters orders a coffee, just what he’s going to do with it (although the over-the-top, make believe lack of consequence to these kinds of actions in these kinds of movies ensure that this is no homage Gloria Grahame in Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat, at least in terms of cause and effect reactions... this movie’s more about people punching things, it has to be said... and there’s nothing wrong with that). Similarly, there’s a scene where you know that two “work colleagues” are suddenly going to burst into action and try to kill each other as soon as they get into their hotel room and little things like this did kinda make me wish the movie had more, actual surprises in it.

However, this didn’t cramp the style of the film one bit and I can honestly say that this is one of the better American made spy thrillers I’ve seen in a while. Plenty of action coupled with some startling acting make this one an unmissable cinema attraction at the moment. Definitely a strong recommendation from me... and Soderbergh is definitely still a major player in todays changeable cinematic landscape, I would say. Take a walk to your local fleapit and check this one out.


  1. Months later, I only saw this on DVD-release and echo your sentiments. SEX LIES was my intro and ongoing maint for high expectations from Soderbergh. LIMEY and FF kept bouncing it back up after the lessers dropped.

    HAYWIRE would have been fun set inside a Gloria Grahame-Audrey Totter framework, though. They shoulda been using hot irons and bike-chains on some of those creeps!

    1. Hmm. Funny you mention Gloria Graham seeing as the opening scene in this one starts off with the lead actress getting hot coffee in the face... to much lesser effect than Gloria's similar experience in The Big Heat though.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.