Haywire (US - BD RA)
Gabe watches a late review copy of Soderbergh's New Wave cool spy flick...
Freelance covert operative Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is hired out via her handler Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) to various global entities to perform various black ops type jobs that governments can't legally authorize. Following a particularly dicey hostage rescue mission in Barcelona, Mallory is surprised when Kenneth quickly dispatches on another mission to Dublin. When the Dublin operation goes awry Mallory discovers she has been double crossed, escapes an assassination attempt, and uses her skills to evade an international manhunt, make it back to the United States, protect her family, and exact revenge on those that betrayed her.
When I reviewed Slumdog Millionare I said something about Danny Boyle being the most successfully eclectic mainstream filmmaker working today, but I’m wrong, I forgot that despite Boyle’s consistent genre change-up, he’s got nothing on Steven Soderbergh in pure numbers. Soderbergh is a one of a kind post-new Hollywood maverick that regularly loses himself in a myriad of styles and projects. The number of films he has output over the last 24 years rivals even famously busy filmmaking stars like Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott. He doesn’t dwell incessantly on dream projects like contemporaries Quentin Tarantino or Paul Thomas Anderson, and aside from a handful of obvious cool, New Wave hallmarks, his films aren’t easily defined as his own though imagery alone. Between experimental films like Schizopolis and Bubble he’s scored two best director Oscar nominations the same year for Traffic and Erin Brockovich, and created a thriving moneymaker when he remade Ocean’s 11 and its two sequels. He’s also one of a select few popular auteur directors that can fail miserably ( Full Frontal) and find himself forgiven by his next release, likely due to his conservative budgets and eclectic output. In recent years Soderbergh has threatened to retire from filmmaking, and appears to be filling out the missing genre pieces in his canon, including a straight thriller/biological horror film, Contagion, and a balls out action film called Haywire.
It’s pretty clear that actors love Steven Soderbergh, and his films’ mainstream appeal is usually found in their high end, ensemble casts. Actors enjoy their time with Soderbergh so much they’re willing to take massive pay-cuts, and participate in supportive positions. Haywire is, similar to Tarantino’s Death Proof, largely built around the talents of its non-actress stuntwoman lead. Soderbergh was so taken with MMA star Gina Carano’s fighting skills he put the bulk of not only the star power and action, but the bulk of the drama on her untried shoulders. In comparison Tarantino left most of the heavy lifting to his non-stunt cast, giving Zoe Bell the support she needed to do her outrageous stunts. Soderbergh takes the bigger gamble, but also supplies the bigger guns in support of his action starlet (not that I’m downplaying the skills of QT’s girls by any means, I’m just being realistic about their box office draw). These include long time collaborator Michael Douglas, new best friend Channing Tatum (who is shockingly human for the first time ever), first time collaborators Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton and Antonio Banderas, and everyone’s favourite new superstar Michael Fassbender (boy is he dreamy). Carano does just fine with the part, oozing unblinking, calm cool, and is generally impossible to look away from. Soderbergh and writer Lem Dobbs don’t push her anywhere particularly dramatic, which works just fine for the pseudo-Bond character they’re creating.
Often Soderbergh’s films aren’t successful thanks to their tight screenplays, but for the total sum of their parts. Sometimes those parts are dramatic interactions, sometimes they’re thrills, sometimes they’re laughs. In this case, the value of the parts is largely measured by the action, which is again, not something Soderbergh is known for. These days there seems to be largely three options for hand to hand action in mainstream movies: the ever enduring Hong Kong method, the Paul Greengrass, Bourne shaky-cam method, and the New French method, which mixes the previous two methods to a certain degree, and is mostly defined by the Luc Besson mediocre action machine (not to be confused with the French New Wave method). The closest I’ve seen to something unique in this type of movie action came about with Joe Wright’s Hanna, which is at times so experimental it verges on Avant Garde. Soderbergh keeps his filming and editing techniques relatively old school, capturing the action and fisticuffs in camera without confusing the audience’s eye with too much unneeded flash. To a certain extent I’d consider this steady-cam heavy, functionally edited film an anti-shaky-cam production, and outside a few ‘artistic’ angles, and some slightly too dark sequence towards the end of the film, Soderbergh holds true to his original concept of showcasing Carano’s unique physical abilities. The fighting isn’t super-intricate in terms of choreography, but captures the weight of the action well, and startlingly pulls the film out of its generally calm mode with sudden brutality. The R-rating isn’t exactly earned here, but the violence rarely feels tempered.
Critically speaking Haywire received mostly positive marks, but was notoriously dumped on by audiences, who gave it a ‘CinemaScore’ exit score of D+. Most of the blame here was placed on the film’s trailer, which promised a certain level of mindless action, and sold heavily on Carano’s star appeal. Something similarly ridiculous happened with Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, which was probably the best film of 2011, but got a C- CinemaScore grade, and the production was sued by an idiot who expected Fast and Furious levels of vehicular mayhem. I don’t appreciate but can understand why mainstream audiences felt burned by Refn’s hyper-stoic anti-action film, but I’m not entirely clear on what went wrong between Haywire and its non-critical audiences. I suppose it might be the film’s overall relaxed tone. Overall Haywire has less in common with the Americana cool Oceans Trilogy, and more in common with the definitively European Jean-Pierre Melville and John Boorman inspired The Limey, which is far from his most mainstream work. Outside the mellow flow and general lack of histrionic acting the narrative movement isn’t exactly easy to follow, again, very similar to The Limey. I suppose this approach was well received when Soderbergh used it for Out of Sight, but Out of Sight never promised to be any kind of action film, and the laid back comedy was made pretty obvious in every trailer. An even more likely culprit for the low CinemaScore might be the fact that Haywire simply doesn’t feature that much action, at least not as much as the jaded masses are used to these days.
Steven Soderbergh was an early adaptor of the RED camera system. He first used the RED One cameras for one half of Che ( The Argentine) in 2006, then again in 2009 for The Girlfriend Experience and The Informant!, 2010 for his Spaulding Gray documentary And Everything Is Going Fine, and he used the RED One MX for 2011’s Contagion. Considering he usually acts as his own cinematographer (under the pseudonym Peter Andrews), he may have more experience with the system than any other major director working in Hollywood today. He knows exactly what it can do, and he’s on his game here for this RED One MX release. This Blu-ray is presented in full 1080p HD, and is framed at 2.35:1. Haywire is very much a companion piece to Soderbergh’s previous RED films, especially Contagion. The palette is a virtual rainbow of hues, and the general edge fidelity is soft and foggy, as if it were shot through a foggy prism. It’s not a dirty look though, it’s just a specific look. Soderbergh doesn’t utilize RED’s super high details to their full effect, but the system’s incredible abilities to softly blend colours and contrasts. This isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of details and fine textures to be found throughout the film, or that such details and fine textures show major signs of compression (there’s absolutely nothing in the way of edge enhancement or blocking effects), it’s just that Soderbergh isn’t particularly concerned with deep focus and sharp lines. The extremely eclectic colour palette, which changes repeatedly based on location, including soft, golden interiors, harsh blue-tinted, outdoor, present day shots (which feature generally the sharpest contrasts and details), and some flashbacks desaturated to the point of straight black and whiteness. I’m sure that these contrasting motifs would wreak havoc with standard definition video, especially the rich reds, which show basically no sign of digital noise.
Soderbergh tends to prefer his films run on a very natural soundscape outside of musical score, which can be an issue for vocal performance. Having just watched Contagion I definitely had issues with understanding some of the dialogue. Volume levels on this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track are a little more consistent, but the general feel remains the same. Bombastic sound effects, like gunshots and connecting fists are usually either left entirely off the track in favour of music, or presented in a very frank, non-flashy manner. The stereo and surround channels don’t get a whole lot of play in terms of effects work, which is mostly presented relatively softly in the center channel. The film makes a point of not dubbing music over the more involved fisticuffs, and I didn’t really notice any directional enhancement as objects are broken the process of damaging human bodies. It’s kind of disappointing as someone that enjoys aural excess, but is also a nice antidote to the Hollywood action norm. The exceptions to the rule come during paranoid sequences of Mallory attempting to avoid public detection. These scenes are still relatively low volume and centered, but do feature more stereo and surround ambience, along with a handful of subtle directional effects. David Holmes’ musical score is a fun mix of ambience, modern electronic, and traditionally ‘60s secret agent/thriller motifs. The music is mixed very warmly, like a jazz album, which leaves some of the drums a bit thin, but creates some delightfully round bass notes, and a nice, thick sound when the brass gets busy. This is the best Ennio Morricone-style poliziotteschi score since Ennio Morricone stopped writing poliziotteschi scores.
The extras begin with Gina Carano in Training (16:00, HD), a slightly fluffy, but generally entertaining look at the actress’ MMA career prep and stunts, including interviews with Carano, WEF founder/owner Jamie Levine, Soderbergh, special ops technical advisor Aaron Cohen, fight choreographer JJ Perry, Michael Fassbender and Ewan McGregor, footage from her MMA fights, pre-viz fights, and general behind the scenes footage. I’m left less impressed with Garano’s skills, which she clearly has in spades, but with the untrained actors who were put against her without stunt doubles. The Men of Haywire (5:30, HD) briefly runs down the non-Carano members of the cast, and includes more interviews with Fassbender, McGregor, Channing Tatum and Antonio Banderas. Extras end with Lionsgate trailers.
Haywire isn’t quite the revelatory badass action film I was hoping Steven Soderbergh had in him, but it’s much better than the bitter CinemaScore audiences would have you believe, and stylistically entertaining even when fists aren’t flying. This Blu-ray release isn’t swimming in hyper-sharp details, but is super clean and colourful, and the relatively modest DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack warmly shows off David Holmes’ fantastic original score. The extras are a bit disappointing, but still worth about 20 minutes of your time.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 1st May 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Gina Carano in Training, The Men of Haywire, Trailers, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Gina Carano, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas and Michael Douglas
Genre: Action and Thriller
Length: 93 minutes
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