HAYWIRE: You Shouldn’t Think of Her As Being a Woman

Haywire (2011) – Directed by Steven Soderbergh – Starring Gina Carano, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, and Michael Douglas.

“You shouldn’t think of her as being a woman. No, that would be a mistake.”

This is the line Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) says to hitman Paul (Michael Fassbender) when he’s trying to convince Paul to take the job to assassinate Mallory Kane (Gina Carano). “I’ve never done a woman before,” Paul had said to him, and this is Kenneth’s final pitch to get him to sign on.

It’s a problematic statement, of course, but it gets to the heart of the problem with HAYWIRE: What do we make of both Mallory Kane and the woman who plays her, Gina Carano? For Kenneth, the statement is both completely true and absolutely false. He completely thinks of Mallory as a woman because he used to be romantically involved with her, but he also absolutely thinks of her as an employee instead of a woman, and her decision to leave his employment will kill his business as she takes many of his clients with her. It’s a perfect storm of personal and professional debasement for Kenneth, and he’s looking to make Mallory pay for this by setting her up to take the fall for the death of a journalist. (The plot is needlessly convoluted, but we’ll get to that.)

This personal/professional divide haunts the Mallory Kane character throughout HAYWIRE because Soderbergh is willing to embrace her professionalism but not her personal feelings and desires. She is clearly at the top of the covert op game. Coblenz (Michael Douglas), a U.S. government official, insists that she be part of an operation he hires Kenneth’s private firm to complete, which tells us how highly she’s thought of, and why Kenneth is so upset that she’s about to bail on him. She’s the meal ticket.

Coblenz is the only purely professional relationship in the film. He represents that far end of the spectrum and her father (Bill Paxton) represents the far end of the personal section. In the middle we have ex-boyfriend Kenneth, who’s completely ensconced in both worlds, Aaron (Channing Tatum), who’s a professional associate that she hooks up with after a job, and Paul, who should be a professional-only contact, but their mission sees them playing a married couple, so it’s like Soderbergh wants to keep up this illusion of her as a part of a couple.

And that brings us to Soderbergh and Carano, and what makes me uneasy about HAYWIRE. The whole film comes out a bit creepy. Instead of coming off as the strong, sexy woman she is in real life, Carano feels a bit fetishized in HAYWIRE by Soderbergh. It just feels … off-putting to me that in a movie where Carano plays this top flight covert op, Soderbergh can’t get away from the fact that she’s a woman, too. She’s constantly wearing outfits that accentuate her sexiness, and while that is, by no means, a bad thing, it also feels like we’re supposed to be surprised when this incredibly sexy woman is also incredibly capable of kicking ass.

Which is silly because we’ve all been watching beautiful women kick ass for years, so why does it come off like Soderbergh is the one who finds this surprising?

In the Blu-Ray’s special features, Soderbergh talks about how he first became aware of Carano when he was watching MMA on CBS (he seemed very focused on the CBS thing, for some reason) and decided someone should build a movie around her. HAYWIRE is the result, but the film offers no more depth than you’d get from watching Carano fight on MMA. (On CBS, or otherwise.) It’s that back and forth between Carano being gorgeous and Carano kicking ass that emphasizes her physicality that bothers me because there’s no emotional counterweight. She even worries about having to play the gorgeous woman with Paul because she’s “not comfortable playing the dress,” which she means as not being comfortable playing the sidekick but comes across literally as her not being comfortable in a dress.

The structure of the film opens with Mallory fighting Aaron in a diner in upstate New York, and then semi-kidnapping a guy (he doesn’t seem to be complaining too much, perhaps because she’s a woman he tried to help when she was fighting with Aaron), who she then decides to tell her story to, because she wants someone to know her story so the truth can, at some level, get out. We get this whole, over-complex plot that’s told largely in flashback, but even though the story is thus told from Mallory’s perspective, she’s largely an empty shell of a character. She comes off as a professional, someone who’s more interested in their job than in the personal, which is fine, but since so much of the film is about how other people emote onto her, it would be nice to get a little something on how she emotes back. Or, if she doesn’t emote back fully, if there was a bit more about how she struggles to emote back, because she just seems to mirror Kenneth and Aaron’s emotional states back to them.

The best scene of the film is when Mallory is killing people in her dad’s house and her father sees her in action down a darkened hallway. Paxton’s face is a mix of emotions; even though he knows what his daughter does, he’s never seen her in action and now he’s watching her in a hand-to-hand, fight to the death battle.

As an actress, Carano is limited, but that’s not surprising given that this is her first film. She’s not bad by any stretch, but HAYWIRE doesn’t ask her to talk a whole lot, which adds to that sense that she’s simply an object for us to watch. Not knowing a whole lot about her, I had a feeling the fight scenes would be good because of her MMA background (and they are brutally fantastic), but even though I’d seen he before, I was a bit take aback at how amazing she looks on film. In some scenes she looks a bit like Rachel Weisz and in others she’s definitely giving off an Asia Argento vibe, but in all scenes she’s Gina Carrano, and the camera simply adores her.

I’m left feeling like Soderbergh let Carano down here, which is a silly and stupid thing to say since she’s only here because of him, but I feel like HAWYWIRE is simply a movie with more style than substance. Because it’s a Soderbergh film he can get Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton, and Paul Fassbender to show up for small roles, but this adds to the fact that none of these characters really feel all that real. They’re ideas, they’re types, but they’re not people.

The script also lets the film down by an overly complex infodump at the end of the film that tries to do the whole, “you thought this guy was the bad guy but this guy is the good guy, and vice versa” bits that’s just not necessary.

Stylistically, then, I’m a fan of HAWYWIRE (the movie has a slick look, and David Holmes’ score is phenomenal), but if you told me right now that I can only watch Carano’s next film or Soderbergh’s next film, I’d pick Carano’s. Soderbergh should deliver something more than a beautiful surface and he doesn’t. On the other hand, Carano has the on-screen presence to have a career in the film business. While her speaking parts are the weakest aspect of her performance in HAYWIRE, the special features segment on her dedication to training, and the glowing way everyone (trainers and fellow actors) talked about her willingness to learn, and take and apply criticism, speaks well of her chances of improving.

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