Just think of it as a small action film. Would you give Steven Soderbergh (the Ocean’s films, The Informant!, Contagion) a hundred million dollars to build an action film around gorgeous MMA fighter Gina Carano? No, probably not. So here we are with Haywire: a stylish spy thriller redux with a lot of MMA-style fights. Does that tickle your fancy?
Mallory (Carano) is a highly-sought after agent who’s been abandoned by her handler (McGregor) after a bad incident with an MI6 agent (Fassbender) in Barcelona, a location repeated throughout the film like a code word. The plot is bizarre from the outlook because as soon as you see Mallory in action, you wonder why anyone would put their prized fighter out like that. The film starts in medias res in a diner in upstate New York and quickly escalates as Mallory takes a fellow patron (the lead from Gentlemen Broncos) and his car, proceeding to explain her entire adventure so far.
We spend a lot of time in Europe, as spy thrillers are wont to do, as Soderbergh plays a long series of beautiful static shots (he doesn’t like to move the camera much) while his signature hip/soft jazz soundtrack plays underneath. In a way, the style makes you forget the small, almost community theater-sized, scale of the film. There are rarely more than three people in a scene at a time (including extras), but sometimes this betrays any sense of rising tension as what could be an escalating chase scene looks like a girl running alone across a courtyard, scene after scene. (It also means that it’s easy to piece elements of the plot together as the roster of possible villains is short.) Where the film delivers its punches is when Carano is literally delivering punches without a musical backing. You only hear the fwips, thwacks, and crunches as she dispatches her foes, which are usually spontaneous.
Just think of it as a small action film.