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Monday
Jan232012

« In Which The Speed Of Light Is Merely Suggested »

Believable Blur

by NOAH DAVIS

Haywire
dir. Steven Soderbergh
93 min 

Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) enjoys wearing leather, drinking wine and running. She also likes beating up dudes, although it's unclear whether she genuinely enjoys kicking their asses or if she derives pleasure from it simply because she's so good. It doesn't matter, really; the important part is that she wins. Sometimes, the boys initially get the upper hand — in Haywire's first fight scene, she requires the assistance of a diner patron to subdue her co-worker-turned-lover-turned-foe Aaron (Channing Tatum) — but she always gets her man.  

Kane has guy problems because of her chosen profession, which is lady James Bond sans government affiliation. She works for Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), her ex-boyfriend, who runs a small Blackwater-type organization. The business is struggling financially and it's about to fall further behind because Kane, Kenneth's best operative, is leaving and "taking her clients." Why she has clients is never explained. Very little about Kenneth's business model makes any sense.

Boy convinces girl to do one more job (surprise!) because it offers him an in with MI-6, an association he believes will supply him with more business. The final mission goes badly (surprise!) and Kane finds herself on the run, attempting to unravel a conspiracy that involves operations in Barcelona and Dublin, and a variety of older, graying men (Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas).  

She explains all this to Scott (Michael Angarano), the aforementioned coffee shop customer, during a series of extended flashbacks that take up the first hour. After escaping Aaron, she steals Scott's car, puts him in the passenger seat, and calmly demands he help her. "I'm Mallory. You're going to fix my arm while we drive, okay Scott?" Appendage properly bandaged, she starts talking. Kane's tale involves many fights, a great deal of running, and multiple glasses of wine. As the story unfolds, bruises earned during her various battles slowly reveal themselves under her impeccably applied makeup. She is dangerous and beautiful, which makes her doubly dangerous.  

Military brat Kane would rather not use her sexuality to her advantage, a notion that is both ridiculous and impossible. She possesses lovely hair and large, obvious breasts. Spies use all their assets. Kane tells Kenneth she refuses to be the eye candy on a mission ("I don't wear dresses.")... then shows up looking stunning in an evening gown. In a moment of intimacy, she and her pretend husband, freelance secret ops agent Paul (Michael Fassbender), confess they are leaving their guns in their hotel room. There is no room in her skintight evening gown for a 9mm (nor, it should be noted, is there any in Paul's impeccably tailored suit). Upon returning to their shared hotel suite, she strangles him with her thighs and finishes her foe by shooting him with the gun hidden under her pillow. Kane then takes a shower, reapplies her makeup, and continues on her way. 

Soderbergh lets his heroine run wild and in exchange, he asks her to carry the film. Despite the presence of McGregor, Tatum, Fassbender, Douglas, and Banderas, this isn't an Ocean's 11-style ensemble cast; it's Carano and a bunch of guys there to help advance the plot. When the ploy works, it does so beautifully. Carano can deliver a punch or a roundhouse kick and look believable doing so, but, more importantly, she can take one (or, frequently, many). Watching a strong, capable woman get repeatedly beat up onscreen and feeling okay about it because she genuinely looks like she's the tougher character is exactly the effect Soderbergh intends.

Too often, however, the fight scenes veer away from raw MMA battles into the cinematic WWE camp. They look too scripted, too stilted, too much like a movie. An unfair criticism, perhaps, but Scarlett Johansson, et al has a "movie fight." The Haywire star can actually kill someone with a kick. That's why she's here; Carano/Kane should have authenticity. (It's the same reason one might, for example, cast a porn star to play a call girl.) When that fails, it's just Black Swan on 'roids, a choreographed dance with vases broken over heads and Kane's male foe inevitably dead. 

Kane has guy problems but she also has daddy issues. She admits her father (Bill Paxton) is "the only person I trust." He instilled a love of battle in his daughter by penning massive novels with titles such as Desert Assault. (Kane's copy of the book includes the inscription "Mallory, Always Semper Fi.") She spends the second half Haywire trying to reach the relative safety of her papa's enormous, modern New Mexico house that sits picturesquely in an empty desert landscape. It offers an open floor plan and a place to fight the fight on her terms.

Eventually Kane trades her beautifully brushed, dyed hair for tight, dreadlock-like braids. She arrives at the penultimate battle wearing black war paint, going Rambo in an attempt to defeminize herself. In a flashback, Kenneth tells an associate, "You shouldn't think of her as being a woman. That would be a mistake." But Kane cannot escape the reality of her chromosomes. It's who she is: a woman. It's what makes her, and by extension, Haywire, interesting. Jason Bourne has none of these problems.

Noah Davis is a contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Brooklyn. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

"Empty Threat" - Kathleen Edwards (mp3)

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