James Stewart stars as a railroad man hired to secretly carry a payroll despite his suspected connections to outlaws
Steven Soderbergh directs mixed martial arts champ Gina Carano in a slick, stylish action film with starry supporting cast including Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Ewan McGregor and Channing Tatum
Steven Soderbergh's penchant for casting non-actors in thematically apposite roles shows no sign of letting up, as he sticks mixed martial arts expert Gina Carano centre-stage in a simple narrative of a black ops soldier named Mallory who is betrayed by at least one colleague and sets out to clear her name/find out why/exact vengeance (delete as appropriate).
The plot itself is extraordinarily simple, while the action unfolds through a series of layered flashbacks, anchored by the present-day strand, on which Soderbergh raises his curtain. Professional badass Mallory briefly shares a drink with Channing Tatum's beefy lunk, before all hell breaks loose, in superbly choreographed antic fashion.
Although it's only explicitly referenced in a handful of lines, the fault line dividing Mallory from her adversaries is her sex. This makes for an interestingly inverted allegory on conventional explorations of gender roles as determined by biological sex. Mallory's perceived function is as a killer, an expert in violence, a skilled assassin. Essentially, she's a tool in the hands of her bosses, a lethal weapon valued not as a person, but as a useful physical machine, to be discarded when considered disposable. Biological determinism is responsible for arguments that suggest women's biological form is what means it's appropriate for them to stay home, rear offspring and act as baby-making machines. Although Mallory is never seen in this light, nor is she perceived as fully human: she's just a different type of machine. As one character says, "You shouldn't think of her as being a woman." She's seen as a machine with a function. That she happens to fulfil that function expertly doesn't mean she can't think too, as her enemies find out to their cost.
So much for subtext. Ultimately, Haywire's value is indeed in seeing Carano do her thing - it might have been interesting to get under her skin a little more, but nowhere near as exciting, right? And it's certainly fun to see A-listers of the calibre of Channing Tatum, Ewan McGregor and Antonio Banderas getting smacked down by a performer most of us have never seen before, in an enjoyable inversion of the boring celebrity-equals-survival hierarchy of most movie violence.
Not necessarily the most cerebral film out there, but if you want to see a female action star in the making convincingly kicking the crap out of a succession of photogenic boys, this is the ticket to buy.
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