Impressions of … Haywire (Steven Soderbergh)


there’s something impenetrable about this film, like watching the action pressed up against the (convex) glass (of the lens), the film doesn’t let you in, and what is annoying is that the effect seems deliberate, or the makers disinterested, as if Soderbergh doesn’t care

the sound mix (or the system I heard it on) didn’t help, with the dialogue fighting to stay above the surface of the funky Lalo Schifrinesque score, Soderbergh is self-consciously experimenting with sound, dropping foley and sound effects from some action sequences to see if he can create emphasis and impact when it suddenly returns, but what this also produces is distance, you don’t feel the action half as much, and this loss is more noticeable because the production design is relatively realistic, with a very detailed and specific use of location

Soderbergh isn’t the only one exercising his technique, screenwriter Lem Dobbs (who also scripted Soderbergh’s ‘Kafka’ and ‘The Limey’) is playing a game of delayed exposition – better than premature exposition! We are playing catch up throughout, piecing together the conspiracy, but this does not significantly increase our identification with the protagonist, as it might have done (in a Hitchcock thriller). In fact, we are not being placed in the protagonist Mallory Kane’s shoes, but rather we find ourselves in the position of the innocent dude who helps her escape from the first fight in the diner. Mallory takes his car (at gun point) and, not wanting to lose it, he accompanies her. For some reason, she recounts the whole story as he stresses in the passenger seat. She tests him on it, as if she were trained him as her witness, though there is no pay-off to this at all. The kid just disappears from the plot.

it’s a chase movie told in for the large part in expositional flashbacks, so it’s significant that the protagonist effectively narrates (or cues) these flashbacks from the driver’s seat and also that she does not appear to be struggling to piece it together – it is we who are struggling! (So what is the status of the flashbacks scenes in which she is not present? Is she imagining them, guessing that they must have occurred, or has the screenwriter forgotten his own structuring device?)

it’s a chase movie so what’s at stake is obvious – the bad guys want to kill the protagonists – and yet these stakes are insufficient to make us (me) care, no effort is made to induce identification or sympathy with Mallory – all we can do is cheer her on as she kicks her opponents corrupt arses, this is not unusual in martial arts action flics, the story model is the ‘hero who will not be stopped’, but this places a greater burden on the star’s charisma, unfortunately, Gina Carano’s doesn’t register very high on the scale (neither does Steven Segal’s or Chuck Norris or JCVD, et al.), though I confess I found her very fetching and wanted to be the one she came home to after a long day’s of pointing guns at people

it also places a burden on the action: the close combat was pretty enjoyable, when the sound effects were present, in particular the quasi-sexual business with Michael Fassbender

I didn’t quite get why was she leaving her employer? This is crucial to the plot and would’ve been a way in to her character, but the exposition was opaque or perfunctory on this point, effectively, the Barcelona job, the centrepiece of the plot, was her last job (for him), and yet the script shys away from stating this – too hackneyed? Her employer knows this, but we don’t see him make a concerted effort to persuade her stay and, wait, he turns up at her apartment immediately after the job offering another gig and she doesn’t tell him she’s through, she merely complains about having to leave again so soon and not doing ‘eye candy’ roles. Why don’t they have it out there and then? Are they too poker-faced to even discuss things? Was the script hinting at a failing romantic relationship? Was she not planning to leave at all? (If so, why set her up at all? Is this last job so lucrative that he won’t need to work again?)

the plot, with its delayed exposition, exposition after the fact, was an intellectual puzzle no more than that

she retreats to her father’s isolated house in Arizona (?) or thereabouts, where an anticlimactic fight takes place, but this character is  inert, and, for an ex-military man, a writer of action thrillers (or were they military history?), surprisingly passive. Opportunities were missed with this character. He could have been the key to getting inside Mallory’s world. The story doesn’t push far enough. She has this eternally safe place, her father. It should have taken it away from her. Either by killing him, or threatening to, or alternatively, by involving him in the conspiracy, making him betray her … he could, for example, have been more of a righteous ‘patriot’ and repudiated her for her alleged crimes. Losing her Daddy would have been an emotional trauma for the hero …

you need to open the doors and let the viewer feel the warm breath of the human, if only for a moment, as they cry in despair

this film was too cool and clever for its own good


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