Haywire is one of the best action films of the decade. Overlooked when it was released wide in 2012—possibly due to a January release date, the typical garbage depot for studio lepers and Oscar bait run-off—Haywire is a taut action-thriller, forgoing the bombast and histrionics of typical action films for tight choreography and bold, resourceful filmmaking.
The last ten years were an experimental decade for director Steven Soderbergh. After the success of the Ocean’s films, Soderbergh retreated to quieter, stranger ideas, including Che, a two-part, four-and-a-half-hour Che Guevara biopic; The Good German, a faithful re-creation of 1940’s era film noir; and The Girlfriend Experience, a largely improvised feature starring active porn starlet Sasha Grey in the leading role. In Haywire, Soderbergh recruits another non-actor, MMA fighter Gina Carano, to play Mallory Kane, a former Marine and hired gun who is double-crossed after returning from a dangerous mission in Barcelona. Short and lean, Haywire—written by Lem Dobbs, who previously scripted Soderbergh’s expeditious 1999 thriller The Limey—relies on the kinetic energy of its action sequences to motivate its elementary revenge plot. The action is claustrophobic—in a back alley, a hotel room or a diner booth—and exhilarating (until the film’s final showdown which is shot wide, on an expansive beach, providing a final catharsis to the audience and characters). David Holmes’ jazzy score drops during the fight scenes—highlighting the film’s punishing sound design that makes each punch echo into the audience’s spine—and Soderbergh’s camera intermingles with the combatants, putting the viewer into the action rather than making them passive observers.
Haywire is not just a lean action flick, it’s an indictment against the male-centered of its genre. Mallory faces formidable fictional foes, but Carano takes on a whole slew of Hollywood’s leading men, past and present. Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, and Michael Douglas all appear in antagonistic roles, challenging not just her but the preconceived notion that a female-led action film can’t stand up against the films of Hollywood’s most recognizable symbols of masculinity.