Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Haywire Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Get your adrenaline pumping as Lionsgate has released the action-packed thrill ride Haywire on Blu-ray. This non-stop adventure, directed by Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh and written by Lem Dobbsintroduces mixed martial arts (MMA) superstar Gina Carano as Mallory Kane, a black-ops agent for a government security contractor.  Mallory is a highly trained government operative who works in the dirtiest, most dangerous corners of the world. After successfully freeing a Chinese journalist who was being held hostage, she is double crossed and left for dead by someone close to her in her own agency. Instantly the target of skilled assassins who know her every move, Mallory must find the truth in order to stay alive. Using her black-ops military training, she devises an ingenious - and dangerous - trap. But when things go haywire, Mallory realizes she'll be killed in the blink of an eye unless she finds a way to turn the tables on her ruthless adversary.  Backed by an all-star cast of Golden Globe nominees Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton and Michael Fassbender, Oscar and Golden Globe winner Michael Douglas and rising star Channing Tatum, watch the story of assassins, betrayal and revenge twist and unfold. 

Film  (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

Steven Soderbergh is an interesting director to follow as he seems to enjoy making movies in different genres which keeps him from being pigeon-holed in one area.  He's done dramas like Erin Brockovitch and documentaries like Gray's Anatomy and even heist movies like the Ocean Eleven series so he's all over the map which is refreshing.  Lately, he seems to be focused on wrapping a story around a certain performer that utilizes their actual past background such as using porn star Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience or Gina Carano's mixed martial arts abilities in this movie, or even Channing Tatum's past history as a stripper in the upcoming Magic Mike.  While that does add some authenticity to the movies, it tends to hurt the scripts since the focus is more on adapting it for the person rather than creating an original story to tell and then finding the right person for it.  Haywire makes good use of Carano's fighting abilities and it has an incredible supporting cast doing just that, but the overly convoluted storytelling seems like some flash and dazzle to distract viewers from the weak script.

The movie opens with Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) going to a diner to meet with what she thinks will be her boss Kenneth (Ewan MacGregor) but instead is met by Aaron, a fellow employee and a former lover of hers.  Aaron orders Mallory to get into his car with him and when she refuses, he strikes her on the head with a ketchup bottle and they start a brutal fight in which Aaron almost wins except for the intervention of a young man named Scott (Michael Angarano) who helps her.  Mallory and Scott make their escape in his car and Mallory for some reason decides to share her confidential past with this new stranger which allows the film to start showing the flashbacks of what happened to Mallory before.  Mallory tells him that she works for a company that does secret work for the government that they can't legally do themselves.  The previous week her boss Kenneth met with Agent Coblenz (Michael Douglas) and his Spanish contact Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas).  They wanted to hire Kenneth's company to rescue a hostage named Jiang (Anthony Brandon Wong) who was being held hostage in Barcelona.  Mallory, Aaron, and others were sent to retrieve Jiang and despite some heavy resistance, they're successful and they deliver him to Rodrigo.

After returning home, Mallory is met by Kenneth who tells her that he has one more easy job for her to that involves her posing as the wife of British MI6 agent Paul (Michael Fassbender) during a mission in Dublin.  She agrees and Paul and her meet Paul's contact Studer (Mathieu Kassovitz).  Later, Mallory sees Paul talk to Studer again from a distance and once he leaves alone she investigates the area and sees Jiang dead, holding a brooch that Kenneth had insisted that she wear earlier to alert Paul she was his contact. Realizing that she's been set up, Mallory returns to the hotel room with Paul where he viciously attacks her once they enter the room. Once again Mallory is ambushed but this time she had an idea that it might happen and she is able to overcome Paul.  Looking at Paul's phone, she sees that he has a missed call and when she calls it and hears that it's Kenneth on the line, Mallory realizes just how far the conspiracy to frame her goes.  Knowing that Kenneth's paid killers will be after her, Mallory makes a quick escape to England and from there she starts making efforts to see who is involved in framing her and setting out to teach them a lesson for their betrayal.

From that point on, the movie becomes more convoluted than it needs to be with Mallory going from place to place and person to person to exact her revenge on those she thinks betrayed her.  Without a doubt, Kenneth is the main person responsible, but there's also Rodrigo and Coblenz who may or may not be involved.  There's also an unnecessary subplot involving Mallory's father John (Bill Paxton) which serves no real purpose other than to reveal a minor plot point concerning his treachery to one of his men.  In fact, there's little reason for most of these characters to be in this movie except for their star power which insulates Carano's first outing as a lead actress.  I can only imagine that actors of this caliber only agreed to be in these small roles out of friendship with Soderbergh or because they really wanted to work with him.  All of them are great in their small roles however and the plan worked because I will go see any movie that has Michael Douglas, Ewan MacGregor, Michael Fassbender, and Antonio Banderas in it.  Rising star Channing Tatum also provides a nice turn in a cameo of a role.  Haywire may not be the intricate spy thriller I was hoping for but it does have some excellent action in it and Carano makes for a very believable and formidable agent.  I especially liked how Soderbergh filmed the action sequences so that you could actually see who was fighting whom, which seems to be out of vogue these days.  With a great cast and some excellent action set-pieces, this is an easy one to recommend but I wish more time had been spent on crafting a script equal to the talent involved in this movie.    

Video (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)

This 1080p (2.40:1) transfer from Lionsgate is a high quality presentation that looks great.  Detail is extremely sharp in the movie with close-ups in particular looking fantastic.  Every whisker, wrinkle, or stray hair is easily seen and beautifully captured in this transfer.   Colors look great too as do the solid and inky black levels even though some scenes did look slightly darker than they needed to be.  I didn't notice any blemishes or digital defects in this high definition transfer.  While not perfect, this is an admirable transfer that looks very good on Blu-ray.

Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)

Haywire's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is also excellent and manages to balance the film's many dialogue scenes with the action scenes well.  The front channels provide some clear, clean, and discernible dialogue, of which there is a lot of for an action film, while the rear channels offer some very nice directional effects that surround the viewer.  When the action does break out, this lossless mix is up to the challenge and in some cases like the diner scenes, startling so.  The sound effects and environmental ambiance are all excellent and well balanced with the film's score by David Holmes.

Extras (2 1/2 out of 5 stars)

I was hoping for more extras than this as all we get is a featurette on Carano's training for the movie and some short interviews with the film's guest stars.  At least they are all in high definition.
  • Gina Carano in Training - This sixteen minute featurette offers pretty much everything you need to know about Carano, which includes footage from her first professional MMA fight, interviews with Soderbergh, Carano, MacGregor, and scenes of her training for the movie.  We learn that Soderbergh wanted to make a movie around her after watching her match on TV.  This is all kind of interesting and I especially liked seeing the detailed training program she underwent for the role. 
  • The Men of Haywire - Criminally short at just a little over five minutes, this extra offers some short interviews with Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum, and Antonio Banderas talking about the movie and their roles.  For some reason, Michael Douglas isn't a part of these interviews which is a shame since he's one of my favorite actors.

Summary (4 out of 5 stars)

Haywire has a lot going for it - good action, a great cast, and one of Hollywood's top directors helming it, but it's lacking a compelling story.  Lem Dobbs' script wants to be a clever and surprising but it ends up being overly convoluted which isn't helped by the film's non-linear story-telling.  This Blu-ray offers an excellent audio and visual presentation but it's lacking some substantial special features to round it out.  I'd still recommend this film for it's non-traditional action and the amazing cast that was assembled for the movie which makes up for what the film is lacking.

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  1. Nice write-up Sean. This spy flick actually features some great fight scenes and stunt. It is edited right down to the bone and the production is about as slick as anything in recent years. Emotionally, however, it is on the cold side, mainly because of Carano’s stiff-delivery.

  2. Thanks Dan! I agree with you about how good the fight scenes and the stuntwork was in the movie. I just wish they had taken more time to improve the script. Carano's performance didn't bother me too much because you could easily dismiss her dispassionate delivery to her training that taught her to keep her emotions in check. For her first film, I think she did pretty good especially when you consider that when compared to this kind of cast, it's easy to look like the weak link. :)Thanks for reading my review and for taking the time to leave a comment!