06 February 2012

What Did I Just Watch? (Haywire)

"You agree that that was a terrible movie, right?"

This was the first thing I heard exiting the theatre that had just screened Haywire and I felt all kinds of defensive. This film was directed by the excellent Steven Soderbergh (who once politely acknowledged my reverent stare at the Bellagio Hotel!). It was praised by legitimate critics. It features a lead performance by Gina Carano that Richard Brody and Glenn Kenny defended on Twitter!

But after a stunningly flat 93 minutes I had to agree: "Yeah, I'm sorry. That was pretty bad."

The only drama is watching Soderbergh, as director-cameraman-editor, try to come up with compositions so beautiful that they overcome the incredible affectlessness of Carano. (Let's settle one thing right here: Ryan Gosling in Drive, Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past--that's laconic. Carano is flat.) And he's so talented that sometimes you can't tell how she's delivering lines. The sky reflecting blue windows after her first escape, the almost washed out yellow-white light for Barcelona plotting, the magic hour sherbet of San Diego for sand fighting...all lovely. And it's not like I found Carano herself unattractive in charcoaled camo and cornrows (like fellow Midwesterner Nelly, "I'm a sucker for cornrows and manicured toes"). It's just that Carano's biggest line of the film ("YOU BETTER RUN!") had a laugh track after it, in my audience anyway.

Aside from the undercooked heroine, Haywire lacks the spicy supporting cast of a film like Drive. No traction from neckless Channing Tatum, not-Puss-in-Boots-enough Antonio Banderas, or quickly-smothered Michael Fassbender. Ewan McGregor and his bizarre little boy haircut fail completely--at some point we need to admit he isn't any good (perhaps fucking Salmon Fishing in the Yemen will do it). Only Michael Douglas properly taps into his own sliminess.

To the watch the film is to wait for the quiet of the hand to hand combat, done with no bombastic sound effects and longish gaps between cuts (compared to the sonic and visual pummel of Bourne 3, for instance). I particularly admire the way Carano's evening gown is torn to resemble a pair of Muay Thai trunks while she thigh chokes Fassbender.

All I can think is how Haywire just hints at the heights of Soderbergh. Douglas projects as blue and greasy as he is in Traffic but the rest of the film lacks a color palette with such narrative function. There's not the flashing structure or sharpness of The Limey (Terence Stamp is another who badly out-laconics Carano). I missed the micro-budget tightness of The Girlfriend Experience, where Sasha Grey is clearly more comfortable in front of a camera.

When I saw the shot of a thick rocks glass and heard two people guessing their professions I could only giggle at how distant Carano and Fassbender in Irelend seemed from Lopez and Clooney in Detroit in  Out of Sight. Soderbergh must be making a joke about knowing when it's time to retire.

If I remember Haywire it will be for things like the Top Gun-riffing, silhouetted showdown between Carano and Douglas. It's got great lighting, a technically perfect circling camera...and a tumbleweed blowing past.