Sunday, January 29, 2012

Haywire (B+)

Beneath themes of female empowerment, minor reflections on the brutality of violence, and mild commentary on our government's use of third party mercenaries, it's clear all Steven Soderbergh wants to do with his new espionage action flick is thrill his audience. The basic plot of the film is simple: A freelance essential "super soldier" is double crossed by her employers, and seeks revenge for their betrayal. While multiple characters slowly pour into the film (allowing many cameos from the likes of Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas), and a few subplots are included to add layers to the characters, nothing alters this simple premise. We've seen this film before; the "bad-ass" seeking revenge will face trials challenging their "bad-assery", pass them all, and kill or defeat any "bad guy" who dares go against them. The end. Admittedly the film follows this generic structure almost to the tee, but thankfully goes against the grain in form of its execution.

Soderbergh makes the decision to not use any form of music or score during any fight scene, and compliments this already unique choice by also having every fight shot with a stationary camera. By not following either of these two conventions of the modern day action film, every fight contains a brutal almost cringe inducing element to it. There are no cuts or music to distract the audience from the aggressive violence on display. We hear each punch, bash, and hit these characters use as they attempt to kill their opponent; and the lack of cuts forces us to acknowledge that the actors playing these characters are forced with the same ordeals as the characters they are playing. Seeing as there's little way to fake having your head smashed into a television, in many cases you are watching what seems to be a bizarre form of method acting with great credit to those playing the attackers. While in a film like last month's Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol you eagerly wait the next fight sequence, in this case the interludes between duels feels like a well earned brake. Though this may sound like a slight criticism of the film, it is intended to be a compliment for the believability of the actors and the creativity of Soderbergh's direction.

Also continuing the film's streak of subtly (and not so subtly) bucking the conventions of its genre, is the key use of accidents and coincidences in the story. It's easy to write off any use of coincidence or accident in an action movie as a excuse for the screenwriter to easily wrap up a few loose ends, but in the example of this film it adds yet another layer of realism to what could be easily classified as a completely implausible story. One instance of how accidents are used well would be a scene in which Mallory (the main character) is attempting to escape a building infested with local authorities by jumping from roof to roof, and misses one of her jumps. This is a moment which adds little if not nothing to the plot, but is included to show that this "super human" seeming character can make mistakes. This proves she is only human, and opens up windows of plausibility that she might make other errors in the future, forcing the audience to consider her as a true character rather than the child of a wrecking ball and a literal force of nature. It's a subtle trick the film employs, and it works to a positive effect.

Going off discussing the creativity of the film, I almost forgot how truly thrilling this movie is. It's an exhilarating experience to see a film which turns something so conventional you can predict its conclusion before even viewing it into something truly special. The plot is simple, yet has enough minor surprises to keep viewers engaged between fights, and while the acting falters slightly in "no fight" purgatory still is at least decently entertaining. Though the brutality may have you gasping in your seat, Soderbergh has constructed a fine piece of action entertainment which tries to avoid conventional genre trappings, and in the majority of the time succeeds.

Grade: B+

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