Stylishly crafted but emotionally cold, Haywire sees Steven Soderbergh letting loose after the uber-serious Contagion and while it delivers plenty of enjoyable action, it’s unlikely to be a film that lasts long in the memory. In her first major role, MMA fighter Gina Carano leads a starry A-list cast in a defiantly B-movie tale of a double-crossed operative who is framed and left for dead by her agency but escapes to discover the truth. As plots go, Haywire’s is fairly by-the-numbers but it serves the job of getting us to the next brutal, hand-to-hand combat sequence. It’s here where Carano is fiercely effective, getting hit hard but hitting back harder, and when she’s in full flow, the film is viscerally entertaining, helped by Soderbergh being unafraid to frame the sequences in a mix of extreme close-ups and wide shots without fast editing, relying on the action to deliver the energy and it always does.
However, once you get past the action, everything else is rather ordinary. Perhaps not helped by the fact that Carano’s main emotional involvement, other than with her ex-soldier father (Bill Paxton), is with the charisma vacuum Channing Tatum, a fellow agent, and the two just never fully convince meaning the third act twists fail to connect as we don’t fully care about the characters, despite Carano’s best intentions, not helped by some stilted, unmemorable dialogue. Fortunately, everything is shot with Soderbergh’s usual panache, with an early highlight being a wordless hostage-rescue sequence which alternates between B&W and colour, that it always looks great and you can just revel in that instead. It does mean though that the film doesn’t have much impact once the action adrenaline has worn off.
As for the starry cast, once you can buy that Ewan McGregor can really be an all-powerful leader of a shadowy headhunting organisation, it’s solid across the board. With a running time of only 93m, it mainly amounts to little more than cameos from the likes of Michael Fassbender and Antonio Banderas but it’s clear they’re having fun, especially Fassbender as the smooth spy and not just when he gets Carano’s legs wrapped around him, and it all adds to the confidence that oozes out of every scene that’s hard not to get swept up in. A final aspect of this comes from David Holmes’ score that has more than a hint of his Oceans’ work about it, meaning that the film has a lightweight, almost knockabout, tone to it – a world away from the serious spy world of Bourne that Haywire’s combat has echoes of.
Overall, if you come to Haywire expecting an adrenaline-fuelled action movie, it’s hard to see you coming away disappointed, even if it prefers to let its fists, rather than explosions, do the talking. Anyone expecting something a bit more though might be underwhelmed, as its characters never really get the screen time or moments to have an impact beyond those made when they’re fighting, resulting in a film that is almost as emotionally disconnected as it is stylish. That being said, it has the smarts to finish leaving you wanting more by implying what happens rather than plumping up the running time so for that to happen, it must have done something right.