The astute observer will make note of the role Haywire plays in continuing Steven Soderbergh’s study of women and female durability, as it joins Bubble and The Girlfriend Experience in a very, very loose trilogy on the subject of ladies who take a sometimes active, sometimes passive, stake in their respective destinies. Contrasted with the female protagonists of those two other films, Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is the most resourceful, the most self-sufficient, and therefore the most successful when it comes to shimmying loose from the snares with which various men attempt to waylay her. As Soderbergh has illustrated in much of his work, from K-Street to Contagion, men and women toil at the pleasure of countless, interdependent spheres of power, with a few deviations in the program occasioned through sheer happenstance. Mallory dances across the spheres—each represented by an icon of Some Man (boss, sorta-boyfriend, daddy, quarry, man behind the curtain, etc.)—and she dances like Fred Astaire.
The result is the most purely pleasurable Soderbergh film in some time, perhaps since The Limey, which, not coincidentally, was also Soderbergh’s most recent collaboration with screenwriter Lem Dobbs. Structurally, both are payback narratives related in subtly fractured chronology, thrilling adventures of the disavowed loner, infused with melancholy to offset the rush. There’s no mistaking the resemblance her contact improvisation-esque tussles have with the largely unseen couplings in The Girlfriend Experience. Somehow validating and nullifying misogynist violence in the same instant, the most handsome men in the current cinema are rewarded by fate or circumstance with an intimate encounter with Mallory, leaving them breathless for decidedly un-romantic reasons.
Spiraling through a gracefully unencumbered narrative that pirouettes on a series of tightly choreographed hand-to-hand combat sequences, Mallory is held up both as the exploited laborer and the untenable foreign irritant. You can look at her as a politicized object, or, on a grander philosophical plane, a talisman of the eternal, existential struggle. Or you can just enjoy the show. Regaling a bemused civilian nobody with her tale of woe, Mallory is used as the story’s focal point, but frequently its visual adjunct, sidelined in corners or shadows. Soderbergh’s mode of confident, laidback indirectness, frequently cutting together images of motion and stillness, effectively turns Mallory’s victory as a foregone conclusion, an inevitability, as sure as the turning of the earth. It should come as no surprise, coming from a director who likes to show, as with mathematical proofs, what happens when our choices and desires collide with an indifferent universe, that one character’s demise (betrayed by uneven rocks on the beach) should rhyme with a similar incident in The Limey.
Steven Soderbergh has been shooting movies in HD, off and on, since Bubble, and with the Red One, almost exclusively after Che. Haywire is his most conspicuously color-coded movie since Traffic, though, unlike the Oscar-winning war-on-drugs epic, the palette seems designed around mood and memory, rather than location and social strata. For a narrative that's skinned to the bone, there's an awful lot going on, visually: Soderbergh, a design-conscious filmmaker who never likes us to see him sweat, composes handsome, slightly warped Scope frames with a fastidiousness that always seems, paradoxically, tranced out. David Holmes's funkadelic jazz score, using a small set of consistent musical motifs, gives Haywire its throwback appeal, and reinforces its relentless momentum. In scenes of music-less business, there's either quiet dialogue or impact noise, with occasional bursts of automatic weapons fire. Lionsgate's transfer and sound mix are both impeccable.
Correctly anticipating that you'll be asking "Who's that girl?" after watching Haywire, the Lionsgate Blu-ray includes a fun behind-the-scenes featurette that gives us a little background on the fighting phenom. In particular, I enjoyed the demo reel Gina Carano's trainer-choreographers sent Soderbergh, which ended up serving as the model for the movie's first big brawl: Tatum vs. Carano. There's another featurette on the movie's male stars, "The Men of Haywire," and a DTS setup option. The disc could have used a few more supplements, maybe a commentary track, but then again, insert joke about lean and muscular movies making for leaner home video releases.
Soderbergh's best movie in ages, a deceptively modest bundle of butt-kicking and betrayal, gets a top-notch transfer from Lionsgate.