In a recent issue of The Onion, there's an interview with Steven Soderbergh about this film, where he talks about how new technology allows him to work on numerous movies at once, and furthermore, he believes that this has come with an attendant rise in quality. "You can just move so quickly now," he says, "put things together so quickly... It’s great. If the workflow that I’ve been using for the last couple of years existed earlier in my career, those movies would be a lot better."
And as you read this, you might be thinking "Yeah, well okay.... But you know, your movies lately really haven't been that good."
I was thinking of this quote often during the course of Haywire, which leaves your mind free for such reflections, and also plenty of free time to contemplate every single thing about it that isn't working. We open in Upstate New York, where mixed-martial arts star Gina Carano as Mallory Kane comes into a local diner. She is soon followed by Channing Tatum, and before you know it, they're having a brutal fight. The fight is shot in relatively long, distant takes (as opposed to the quick, blurry cuts of a Bourne film) and have no music, so all you hear are the punches and groans, which makes the whole thing seem more brutal than most movie fights. Mallory escapes by taking a bystander, and his car. As she drives, she explains the whole thing, and we start having flashbacks that show how we got here.
Mallory was on this mission in Barcelona to spring this prisoner, which her team does, necessitating another chase and fight. Then she gets home and her boss, Ewan McGregor as Kenneth, sends her right away on another mission. By now one has had time to reflect that Mallory simply isn't very likable. We're used to super-spies that are better than everyone else, but this character carries herself with a smug superiority that is alienating. She talks down to her team and companion in the car, and basically everyone. I get that she's an all-business super agent who is all about the mission, but there's nothing personal or personable about her to relate to. I had also heard that they gave Carano, who has done no screen acting before, very few lines, but she's talking quite a bit here. In fact, she's talking way too much.
But the action has been interesting, the whole Barcelona thing moving between color and monochrome, with the sound muffled and big, overpowering music. Only you think eventually it's going to slow down and you're going to find out why all this is happening, but no, it's just on to the next location and the next fight. I looked at my watch and thought "Wow, it's 40 minutes in, and I still have no idea why all this is happening." This is when I also reflected that if I have no idea what's happening, I have no reason to care. This is also when I noticed numerous audience members giving up and walking out of the movie.
I'll skip ahead and let you know that we don't find out the whys of all this until the last few minutes. This seems like one of one of the ways in which Soderbergh thinks he's advanced and a bit intellectual: It's often such a silly piece of information, the MacGuffin, as Hitchcock had it, that sets a story in motion, what would happen if we eliminated it entirely? And brought the movie down to pure action? Well, THIS is what would happen. The thing abut the MacGuffin is that it's amazing how such a silly, often perfunctory thing can get audiences involved in the movie, and the amazing thing is that IT WORKS. Compare with Mission Impossible 4, which simply tells you there are stolen nuclear secrets, and that is enough to get the audience involved in the movie, and care about what is happening. It works. Here, she's running, she's jumping, she's kicking, she's punching, but it's just so much empty sound and fury because we have no investment in why it's all going on, or what's at stake. I was bored.
This also brings us back to our discussion, begun in... well, I forgot which movie, about smart directors who think they're going to make the "perfect action film." This movie bears the stink of that arrogance, as Soderbergh seems to think he can swoop in and take the tired-but-effective "highly-trained-agent-gone-rogue" genre and show us all how it's done when such a canny mind applies itself to it, removing the MacGuffin, removing the fight music, etc. Well buddy, your movie is a dud. It makes you want to seek out Soderbergh himself and say "Dude, your movie sucks!" But one suspects he would simply dismiss you as a simple-minded douche who is not operating at his advanced level and should stick to Transformers 12. It wouldn't be so bad if there weren't a darn good example of the perfect action film out right now, which again is Mission Impossible 4. That movie shows us that the reason a lot of the old tropes, like the MacGuffin, are in place is because they WORK, and also has enough directorial panache and knowing cleverness to seem thoroughly contemporary.
So by the midway point one has lost all interest, and there's still a bunch of bullshit to sit through. Things you thought might develop--like the non-super-agent dude Mallory escapes with--come to precisely nothing. Eventually the movie introduces Bill Paxton as Mallory's dad and, well gee, who would have thought Bill Paxton would suddenly seem so pleasant to see? And that his maturity would sit so well on him? Now we know who'll be the new Tommy Lee Jones for the next few years. It comes down to a final showdown, during which we're supposed to believe that Mallory has, like, feelings for that one agent she screwed that one time, which leads to the next final showdown, and then the NEXT final showdown. In here we finally find out the reason for everything that's been happening, long after we have ceased to care.
When it was over, my friend complained about how ugly it all was, shot on digital, which didn't bother me, but which he was quite adamant about. He also compared Soderbergh to Ron Howard! Admittedly a low blow, but his point was about directors who once seemed promising then steadily eroded away any goodwill. Honestly, at this point I just want Soderbergh to fuck off. Take your superior intellect and understanding of film and just FUCK OFF. He has been making squalks about how he's going to retire from film soon, and leave mankind bereft of his unique luminous gift, to which I can only say: "BYE!"
No, it's a piece of shit.