By Carl Kozlowski
Picture a tall brunette who is a whiz at performing secret missions and capable of kicking the behind of any man who crosses her path. Perhaps you’re thinking that I’m writing about Lisabeth Salander, the heroine of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—but there’s an even newer girl in town, one who could kick the tattoo right off of her.
Making her debut in the wildly entertaining new thriller Haywire, Gina Carano, the world’s top female mixed martial artist, has looks and charisma that burn through the screen, along with enough natural acting ability to hold her own against the stellar supporting cast of Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum and Michael Fassbender. The fact that such world-class talent agreed to take secondary roles to a newcomer like Carano is a testament not only to her own performance, but the casting brilliance of the film’s director, Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Erin Brockovich).
Written by Lem Dobbs, who previously teamed with Soderbergh on the similarly stylish yet gritty thriller The Limey, Haywire tells its story in fast and furious fashion while jumping between the past, present and future, as well as locales ranging from Dublin and Barcelona to New Mexico and Colorado.
Carano plays Mallory Kane, a special operations agent who is contracted for everything from assassinations to rescues, and she opens the film while on the lam after being double-crossed and nearly killed.
Mallory had been the lead on a team mission to save a Chinese whistleblower from terrorist kidnappers. After handing him off to the man who paid for his rescue (Banderas), she heads home, assuming it was just another successfully completed assignment.
But her boss and former boyfriend, Kenneth (McGregor), sends her on a weekend jaunt to Dublin to play the arm-candy wife of a British intelligence agent. When the Brit suddenly tries to kill her, she takes him out instead and learns that the entire mission was set up by Kenneth to kill her.
Going on the run at the same time she unravels why this has happened and who else wanted her dead, Kane sets off a string of car chases, rooftop escapes and ever-inventive martial arts ass-kickings that feel fresh rather than derivative. The key reason for that might be the sheer wonder of seeing Carano in action, administering beatings that are stunning to behold even as the Oscar-winning Soderbergh keeps things classy and mostly blood-free.
But the true MVP of Haywire is composer David Holmes, whose propulsive score mixes jazz with techno beats and lush orchestration to create one of the most impressive soundtracks I’ve ever heard in an action film. Its vibrant hooks provide a perfect counterpoint to the action, adding another layer of surprise to the proceedings while Soderbergh shoots it all with a mix alternating black and white with color and sound with sudden swatches of silence.
Put it all together and you’ve got a film with a refreshingly strong heroine who is matter-of-factly accepted and referred to as the absolute best in her dangerous field. And thank all the people involved for the fact that Haywire provides such a strong female character without the nasty, misogynistic undertones of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Mallory Kane doesn’t need to get degraded via anal rape to find her drive.
Just like Carano, she’s born that way.