Haywire is definitely a spy thriller, just one that leans a little closer to the restrained Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy than the Salt-y adrenaline-pumping variety the advertising might lead you to believe. Sure, it has plenty of hand-to-hand combat and car chases, it’s just done in a way that brings more focus to authenticity than slam-bangery.
We’re introduced to a black ops agent named Mallory in the film’s opening scene as she’s met in a diner by Channing Tatum. He appears to be an old friend, but quickly tries to kill her. After taking a gunshot to the arm and kicking Tatum’s ass (in that order), Mallory drives away with a stranger (Michael Angarano) and explains the events that have brought her to this point. This leads to a flashback sequence that composes the bulk of the film’s runtime, which is essentially a manhunt (or womanhunt?) with Mallory choking out any man who crosses her.
Mallory is a rather quiet samurai-like hero, played effectively enough by former MMA fighter and American Gladiator Gina Carano. Of course, this is a Steven Soderbergh film, so the newcomer is surrounded by a loaded cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Bill Paxton, Ewan McGregor and Antonio Banderas. Unfortunately, they’re just suits with names as we’re left to figure out how they all fit into the puzzle. Only Banderas gets to bring any personality to his character, mainly during the goofy, yet satisfying closing scene.
In addition to casting a real-life ass-kicker rather than a stick-thin actress as his lead, Soderbergh brings a level of realism to the film with his shooting style. He takes the camera back a few steps so we can watch the fight scenes develop, relying on some entertaining fight choreography rather than the whip-pans and flash cuts that have become the action movie norm.
The angles he chooses during the rooftop foot chases add perspective to the pursuit. There are some well-timed shots that have some government agents turning the corner on the roof just as Mallory has descended far enough down the fire escape for them to miss her. Even if the movie is slow to reveal who set Mallory up and who she can actually trust, there is plenty to look at and hold your attention with subtle touches like birds taking off as Mallory runs past them.
I never really considered Steven Soderbergh an “auteur” before, thinking his films were all too different from one another for him have a true personal style. But similar to how Contagion doesn’t reveal the source of the virus before the film’s final scene, we’re kept in the dark about the root of Haywire‘s double crosses and set-ups until the closing moments. But all the while, some well-placed Informant!-like dark comedy and a cool, jazzy Oceans-esque score from David Holmes keeps things moving along smoothly. Hm… I guess I was wrong.