HAYWIRE – Blu-ray review

The opening shot of “Haywire” (2012) introduces us to the main protagonist, Mallory Kane (Gina Carano), in a laid-back manner. The camera stays firmly focused on Mallory as she tries to closely inspect her surroundings at a diner. She moves her eyes rapidly, looking for anything suspicious and swirling her tongue while waiting.  She is not bored and is expecting something unusual. Moments later, Mallory presents an exasperated look on her face, imbuing it with a “not again” moment. Soon after, the tone of the entire setup changes and the camerawork gets zappy, trying to capture the action happening at the diner. These opening minutes are critical in developing an action-oriented portrait of Mallory. We know Mallory is smart, receptive, sexy, aggressive, physically fit, and above all, doesn’t take anything for guaranteed. As the opening moments end, we are taken to Mallory’s world as a special agent caught in a web of deceit and double crossing.

After escaping from the diner with Scott (Michael Angarano), Mallory, through a series of flashback segments, reveals who she is and why she is on the run. Mallory works for a private firm employed by the American government for secret operations. A week earlier before the diner sequence, Mallory, along with her boss, Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), meet a government agent, Coblenz (Michael Douglas), who asks them to undertake a mission to rescue a Chinese hostage kidnapped in Barcelona. The Chinese hostage after being rescued is delivered to Coblenz’s Spanish contact, Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas). Mallory is back in the U.S. and Kenneth asks her to take another mission in Dublin, where she has to pose as the wife of an MI-6 agent, Paul (Michael Fassbender). As the events unfold in Dublin, Mallory realizes she has been set up. At Dublin, she is chased by heavy-armored security agents but manages to escape. Now, Mallory is looking for people who double-crossed her in the last mission.

“Haywire” is an energetic film, moving at a breezy pace. The film is immensely entertaining, mainly due to director Steven Soderbergh’s unconventional setup for shots and Carano’s dynamite debut performance. Carano is perfectly suited for this role, and with her slim body, she convincingly embodies a covert agent. Carano is a live wire, packing the right amount of energy as an agent on the run. Carano’s character can be seen as a femme fatale, always living dangerously and willing to avenge her perpetrators. Throughout the missions, we see Mallory totally driven and focused on completing her assignments; she is quick on her feet and her sharp senses ensure she is always ahead. The plot might appear similar to other spy movies, and at some level Mallory can be seen as the female version of Jason Bourne. In the performance department, Carano’s dialogue delivery comes across as too straightlaced, devoid of emotion, but this inadequacy is hardly noticeable because of infrequent dialogue and Carano’s beautifully choreographed fight sequences.

Director Soderbergh wanted to make a female-centric film that shows a female lead trapped in a male-dominant world. In order to develop Mallory’s world, Soderbergh collects an ensemble cast featuring accomplished male actors, something similar to what he did in previous efforts like “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Contagion” (2011). By keeping Mallory’s character at the center of the story, Soderbergh channels Mallory’s energy to take out the male villains. In the technical department, “Haywire” features top-notch editing, making action sequences brisk and fast paced. Even though this is an action film at heart, Soderbergh doesn’t go overboard in portraying the action. Moreover, this helps in focusing our attention on the story and characters, since the action never becomes distracting. Of course, in an attempt to make this film hyperkinetic, Soderbergh infuses his trademark visual style previously seen in “Traffic.” In “Haywire,” he deliberately shot the film in dimly lit conditions, making the film’s palette overly dark at times; colors are also a bit exaggerated. A black-and-white segment is also used, so that we can make an instant connection to Mallory’s success as a secret agent. As such, this segment also forms an important part of the narrative.

Running close to ninety minutes, “Haywire” is a fast-and-furious, entertaining ride, consisting of many twists and turns. The plot twists may be be predictable, but it’s the manner with which the script mixes the action and human chaos that makes this film worth your time.

“Haywire” is a heavily stylized film, using multiple color formats, mixing both color and black-and-white segments. Lionsgate presents it in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1, encoded using an AVC codec, with bit rate in the high 30’s. The film was shot using the Red One MX 4K digital camera system, and the results are quite impressive. The 1080p transfer is crisp, seamlessly blending the two color formats. The colors are deep, and the film’s palette heavily emphasizes yellow and green hues. The images are sharp looking, and the sharpness stays consistent. Even in dark shots, the transfer boasts solid blacks. The close-ups have remarkable facial textural detail, and the skin tones are warm and realistic, too. Although the black-and-white segments are short, the black levels and contrast are set appropriately.

If the visual aspect of “Haywire” is stylized, then the film’s sound design is lively, too. Lionsgate presents a lossless track in the form of the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. As expected, the dialogue comes out crisply and cleanly, and it’s audible throughout the film’s entire duration. Even when there is no dialogue, especially in the Chinese hostage sequence, the film’s dynamic soundtrack realistically recreates the action happening in the setup; there is always sound coming from different channels. The rear channels remain active in the action sequences, and the bass is deep and well balanced. In the end, the audio mix is highly energetic and provides an immersive experience.

There are not many extras included for this release. First, “Gina Carano in Training” shows the star, Gina Carano, in her training sessions, along with interviews with Carano. Director Soderbergh talks about how he was motivated to create “Haywire” after seeing Carano fight in an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) match. Next, “The Men of Haywire” is a collection of interviews with Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum, and Antonio Banderas.

Parting Thoughts:
“Haywire” is a fun little film that is propelled by a new action star, Gina Carano, who has an incredible on-screen presence that manages to hold our attention. Carano is superb in the action role because of her agility and the ease with which she handles the action sequences. Soderbergh took a risk with the casting of Carano, and Carano doesn’t disappoint in her first film. Indeed, “Haywire” will go down as one of the best action films of 2012.

For another take on the film. you can read Chris Long’s review.