Haywire – An Alpha Female Hits The Big Screen

Since the boom in public interest in MMA following the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, a growing number of MMA fighters have dabbled in acting. The results have been, by and large, teeth grindingly awful. Straight-to-DVD releases like Circle Of Pain and No Rules are unwatchable, and far and away the best MMA movie so far – Gavin O’Connor’s superb Warrior – made the smart choice to use actors in the leading roles, because, let’s face it, it’s easier to teach an actor to fight than a fighter to act. But then along comes Steven Soderbergh with Haywire, an action thriller starring former American Gladiator, kickboxer and MMA starlet Gina Carano, to buck the trend.

The new "Dodge The Bullets" round on American Gladiators really thinned out the competition

The basic premise is that Mallory Kane (Carano) is an operative working for a private contractor that works with the US government carrying out espionage for hire. Betrayed by her employer and hunted by the authorities, Mallory goes looking for answers and revenge. The script adds interest to the fairly straightforward premise by telling the story out of sequence and teasing out information gradually.

It was bold of Soderbergh to have a first-timer carry the film, but Carano rises to the challenge. Certainly, the script gives Mallory little time for introspection and certainly none for soliloquising but then this is Soderbergh showing the same lean, muscular style he displayed in The Limey. Carano makes Mallory likeable to root for, with a fair dash of sex appeal, and she exudes enormous self-belief. She’s the alpha female and it certainly does not hurt that she is surrounded by a top notch supporting cast. Channing Tatum (who was excellent in The Eagle, which is well worth your time) is spot-on as Aaron, an agent obviously hired for his muscles rather than his brain, and Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender and Bill Paxton are all on reliably good form. Ewan McGregor drips sleazy intentions as Kenneth, Mallory’s boss and former lover. He makes a despicable villain and has one of the best lines of the film – “You shouldn’t think of her as being a woman. That would be a mistake.”

The movie opens with a confrontation in a cafe between Mallory and Aaron that explodes into shocking violence. This is where Carano’s casting really pays off. The fight scenes are brutal, no-frills affairs and benefit enormously from the fact that Carano is visible performing them herself – there is no need for frantic editing and lurching cameras to conceal the presence of a stunt double. Carano carries herself with a fighter’s confidence and cuts an athletic figure. An illuminating contrast is with Angelina Jolie in Salt (such a dumb movie – apparently you can infiltrate the White House by hiding round corners). Jolie is so thin she singularly fails to convince as a hand-to-hand combatant – it is hard to believe anyone so emaciated could pack a punch of any consequence, but Carano has power in her physique and makes you believe in Mallory’s ferocity.

Sure, she can jump over a car - but can she cook?

The stripped down direction of the fight scenes brought to mind the classic scrap on the train in From Russia With Love. There is no time for witty banter or clever insults – these are desperate encounters where defeat will result in death, so the combatants’ concentration is absolute and there is no energy or time to talk. The fight in the hotel room is a knockdown, drag out classic and matched by the scene in which Mallory takes out two members of the Garda in Dublin with ruthless determination. J.J. Perry, who worked on Warrior, is credited as fight choreographer and has really hit the mark. If there was any wirework, I didn’t spot it. Instead there is a mix of Muay Thai and jujitsu all performed with total conviction. It looks painful but is thrilling to behold. If Carano stays in the movies and never returns to the fight game, Haywire suggests she could have a bright future as long as directors continue to play to her considerable strengths.

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5 Responses to “Haywire – An Alpha Female Hits The Big Screen”

  1. dangerousmeredith Says:

    I hope you don’t mind Dorkorama but I posted a link to this blog on the Heroic Sisterhood facebook page, which is devoted to martial arts film fans. Let me know if you want it taken down.

    http://www.facebook.com/#!/HeroicSisterhood

  2. Bonnie Says:

    Great review–you’ve convinced me I want to see this!

  3. Will Says:

    Likening the fights to the train fight in From Russia With Love pretty much sold me. That’s one of my favorite fights in a non-martial arts film. Sounds great, I will have to check it out!

  4. muaythai training in thailand Says:

    Yeah, I’ve got to check this movie out as well. Worth it just to see Gina in action.

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