Gina Carano has made the jump from athlete to actress, and the early return is nothing but positive. For her first movie, she chose a role that's right in her wheelhouse, a fastball down the middle. She made a wise decision, picking an ideal role that gets to show off her immense physical talent and ability, starring in 2012's Haywire.
Working for a private contractor who works for the government, former Marine Mallory Kane (Carano) is as good as it gets when black ops work is needed. She takes jobs on an individual basis from her boss, Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), sometimes working alone, other times working with a team. After a successful job in Barcelona though, everything hits the fan. Suddenly, Mallory has been set up and international law enforcement is after her wherever she goes. Who burned her, and what's their motive? Left on her own and abandoned in Europe, Mallory must now find out who set her up before they complete their mission.
From director Steven Soderbergh, Haywire is just more proof of the director's already visible talent. Dark comedies, crime dramas, heist movies, disaster epics, historical period pieces, Soderbergh can do it all, and he manages to put a unique, personal spin on all of them. I really liked this movie from the talented director. His familiar style is there, but it's a no-frills sort of style. Title cards keep us abreast of where Mallory has traveled to, and what better music than a fast-paced jazzy score to accompany the action? Composer David Holmes does a variation on his Ocean's 11 score, a more subtle, sinister sound. Listen to the main theme HERE. The whole soundtrack/score is surprisingly worthwhile, appropriate in a quirky sort of way. It's a small-scale spy story -- somewhat similar to the Bourne movies -- that feels familiar with a 'been there, done that' quality, but Soderbergh and his cast are so good at what they do, you don't even notice. It's too good of a movie.
Appearing in her first starring role, Carano does not disappoint as the vengeful Mallory. There are too few female action stars out there -- legitimate ones that an audience can buy -- and Carano certainly has that potential to fill the void. Basically, don't expect her to do any romantic comedies anytime soon...although that could be interesting. This isn't a part that requires her to be a big, showy performer. It's a subtle, quiet performance that relies on intensity and few words. Most importantly, Carano is incredibly believable in the part. As an athlete/MMA fighter, she's quite capable, something she gets to show off in her handful of hardcore fight scenes. She does all of her own stunts (that I could see), and also important, more than holds her own in the fight scenes. Fight sequences between a man and a woman can look forced and stagey, but not here. A welcome addition to the action genre, I look forward to seeing where Carano goes from here as an actress. Incredibly talented and one of the sexiest, seductive spies ever.
It is a testament to Soderbergh's talent and reputation that countless actors/actresses want to work with, as is the case here. Haywire features a handful of smaller performances from some not small names and not a one disappoints. McGregor gets the most screentime as Kenneth, Mallory's employer and former boyfriend/lover, and makes the most of his supporting part. Channing Tatum plays Aaron, a fellow agent/operative who's worked with Mallory in the past and is now trying to piece things together. Michael Douglas is nicely cast as Coblenz, a government higher-up who hired Kenneth for some off the books work, and Antonio Banderas is appropriately mysterious as Rodrigo, a key part of the mission and deception. In a brutally efficient part, rising star Michael Fassbender again shows he's capable of bigger and bigger things, playing Paul, an Irish source for Mallory. Bill Paxton plays John Kane, Mallory's father, who knows what his daughter is up to, constantly hoping she leaves the business.
For better or worse, some of those performances are there for Carano's Mallory to beat the crap out of. With her mixed martial arts background, Carano leads the charge in the action department. That no-frills, brutal style is reflected in these fight scenes, one with Tatum and Fassbender each, among some other quality action. These are fights that leave the viewer hurting, and Soderbergh wisely shoots it without the frenetic editing. We see the fights, see the individual moves, all of them done so quickly they're almost a blur. Even better, no music is played over these scenes, all of the focus on the brutal hand-to-hand combat. This is where Carano shines, a physical presence who can stand toe-to-toe with her male counterparts. The sequences are so well done there's almost a dark beauty to it all, so good it makes you marvel at what's going on.
Above all else, that's what this flick is; an action movie. A chase through Barcelona, and later Mallory fleeing a SWAT team in Dublin are criminally simplistic. It isn't lots of quick cutting and crazy out of this world explosions and pyrotechnics, just one person on the run and/or chasing someone. Holmes's jazzy score plays over this portion that bounces back and forth between color and black and white photography. Stylish without being overdone, just enough to call attention to itself without being overly aggressive. The story itself is half flashback, half current time, and while they're explained, the betrayals and double crosses are almost unnecessary. From Barcelona to Dublin, upstate New York to the New Mexico desert, Haywire starts off at a sprint and never slows down at just 93 minutes. Simply put, a professionally made, beautifully choreographed espionage/spy thriller that is well worth a watch.
Haywire <---trailer (2012): ***/****