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24 January 2012

"The Motive Is Always Money"

The last three Steven Soderbergh films I saw were ContagionThe Informant! and Ocean's Thirteen. They were both good and they were also very different. In his latest movie, Haywire, he borrows a little from the Ocean franchise (stylistically, at least) and a lot from Joe Wright's Hanna. The result is an action-packed (but not too noisy!), tightly edited thriller that doesn't take itself too seriously but entertains throughout its 90-minute duration.

Gina Carano, a former mixed martial arts fighter turned actress, stars as Mallory, a freelance black ops soldier who discover she is being played by her boss and ex-lover Kenneth (Ewan McGregor). Several other big names prop up the title cards--Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas and the darling of everyone (except the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, it seems), Michael Fassbender. Mallory is sent out on a mission in Barcelona, supposedly to rescue and safely deliver a Chinese prisoner. On her return, Kenneth convinces her to take another job in Dublin--easy work, he says, and all she will need to do is pretend to be the wife of a British spy (Fassbender) at a party, wear a dress and look pretty. But then she finds the body of the Chinese prisoner at the party and in his hand, he is holding one of her brooches, and, smart cookie that Mallory is, she realises she is being set up.

What follows is the fast-paced, city-hopping, parkour-filled journey of Mallory seriously kicking ass as she tries to seek vengeance on and gain her freedom from the guys who have wronged her. The story is told partly through flashbacks, with more details being added to scenes we have already seen when Mallory finds out what really happened. Carano has a few IMDb credits to her name but this appears to be her first big role in a feature-length film and she is good and manages to pull off that tough-but-vulnerable balance. We don't see as much of the other actors but McGregor is convincingly dodgy ("the motive is always money," he says, seeming surprised that anyone could think otherwise), and although Banderas didn't quite bring out his Puss in Boots voice, screentime with him is rarely a bad thing (exception).

Unlike Hanna, with its pumped-up Chemical Brothers score, Haywire is a cooler affair, with the score reminding me a lot of Ocean's Eleven in places (not surprising given that David Holmes worked on both films) and, unusually for this genre of film, quietening down during chase sequences and fights. This is a proper action film with a lot of fights and some great stunts but it's a lot less in-your-face than most other films in the genre. Perhaps Soderbergh is trying to appeal to the teenage-girl market (which could also explain the strong female lead). And if you're a purist when it comes to this genre? Fear not: judging by the trailers, there are plenty more traditional action thrillers on their way.

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