Monday, 27 February 2012

Film Review: Haywire (2011)

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Lem Dobbs
Stars: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor and Michael Fassbender

Steven Soderbergh is many things. He is one of the most pioneering directors of digital filmmaking working today and he can squeeze every penny out of a small or large budget. His frames are always interesting, his colour pallet vivid and striking, and he never allows himself to be mundane or obvious strives to challenge himself with new and fresh material, with the ‘Ocean’ trilogy as his only franchise and money-spinners. He is one of my favourite directors.

Having said all of that, it pains me to not have enjoyed his latest project, the supposed action/spy thriller Haywire. If anything, to me this is his weakest film to date.

The core reason, ironically, is because of all of the afore-mentioned reasons why I love his work so much but in Haywire it just did not work for the genre. This is his first attempt at the spy/thriller/espionage genre and he is hinder by a lifeless, dull, and stagnant script which, despite a decent opening 20 minutes, wastes away to nothing rapidly. I could not invest in any of the characters or their motives, especially the lead, Mallory the hard-done-by agent who is out for revenge for reasons I never really cared about. She isn’t the first and she won’t be the last; it surprised me Soderbergh was attracted to such a by-the-numbers story. 

The film is filled with recognisable faces but Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas are there to add gravitas to the poster and Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum, and debutant Gino Carano deliver their lines like we’re watching rehearsal footage. It’s poor dialogue delivered badly. Channing Tatum has the on-screen charisma of a burnt match and is about as useful; I’m saddened to see he has the role in Soderbergh’s next picture, Magic Mike.

Soderbergh’s usual experimentation with colour, filter, framing, and editing are all on-screen in Haywire but only serve to hid the bland story and his inability to stage a fight scene with art-house pretensions. The fight scenes look like rehearsals of what was to come and never for one moment did I feel any enjoyment or excitement. I’m all for his usual style when the story and characters serve its purpose but Haywire, like Ocean’s Twelve, is not the right material for that. Moreover, I want to make a point about digital filmmaking and it’s cinematic qualities; this film looked out of place on a big screen, the Red One camera makes the lighting look too flat and almost too real, taking away any cinematic qualities the film may have had. I might enjoy this film better on TV, but the initial damage has been done. I do not and never will advocate digitally downloading new releases, but films which look like Haywire should have their place in that medium.

I don’t want or expect all spy films to copy James Bond or The Bourne trilogy and this is not why I’m against Haywire. I like and welcome new styles to familiar stories, but if they don’t work then it’s a case of “nice try, but better luck next time”. The final line in the film is “shit”, which doesn’t quite sum up Haywire, but is not too far from the truth either. Sorry, Steven, but you set yourself up for that one.


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