“Haywire” stripped-down, brutal spy thriller

I was reviewing a new Steven Soderbergh film not four months ago, and will be doing so in not five months. Such is the pace at which he hammers out films. No hard feelings. The man’s a maniac, and American cinema is all the better for it. His new film, the chase thriller “Haywire”, is an exercise in how much excitement restraint can yield. It stars, in her cinematic debut, the former MME wrestler Gina Carano.

Her character, Mallory Kane, is a freelance government soldier. After a successful Barcelona operation, she’s quickly re-deployed to Dublin, and here things get a bit shaky. She’s double-crossed and sets off on a mission to see who spited her. Her options are not slim: “Haywire”s amazing supporting cast of men include Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, and sporting a magnificent beard, Antonio Banderas. They’re all given quite a bit to do in the film’s slim 93-minute running time, an impressive accomplishment. Carano herself never wavers in her unwavering, magnetic intensity, hinting through Bill Paxton’s father figure at a softer, sweeter side that we never (nor should ever) see.

“Haywire” isn’t so much a story to be told, but rather, a sort of style and vibe to be evoked. There’s a cohesive, interesting plot in play here, but its clearly not Soderbergh’s primary intent. “Haywire” is really about lining up a group of insanely talented men and having a unique physical presence beat her way through all of them.

And what beatings! “Haywire” strips action to its bare-knuckled roots: people with their fists, beating each other furiously. Soderbergh’s approach is just as vintage-minded, with steady camerawork, continuous shots, and no music or sound providing a welcome alternative to the Adderall-infused action-sequence standard we’ve come to expect. And when the score does kick in, DJ David Holmes’ pulsing rhythms are just as coolly fitting as his excellent work with Soderbergh’s “Oceans” trilogy.

Soderbergh’s technical finesse remains entirely evident, as his tendency to personally take up the duties of editing and cinematography results in an intriguingly toned visual style. “Haywire” climaxes in a showdown on a beach, and here all of the film’s strengths come together deftly: interesting technical techniques, restrained style, and just a good old-fashioned ass-beating. “Haywire” is blockbuster entertainment imagined as methodical minimalism; the result goes down smooth as butter with a kick like spice, or better yet, from its main character. B

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