Haywire (Movie Review)
“Haywire” is one of those special movies that tells an otherwise simple and linear story in the wrong order, so as to confuse those of us in the audience and to make us forget that everything we’re seeing has been done before (and better). A number of movies have used the technique to great success, but in this case the attempt backfires.
As the movie begins, Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is sitting in a diner, waiting to meet with someone important. We don’t know who, though by the time Mallory comes to occupy that particular diner, we would have known if only the movie started at the proper beginning. Since it didn’t, we are forced to guess our way through an awkward encounter. Mallory watches—apparently bemused in spite of herself—as a dopey looking fellow named Aaron (Channing Tatum) seats himself and engages her in a rather pointless conversation about how tired and annoyed he is over finding her in the diner instead of elsewhere. It’s clear that Mallory is on edge, which makes sense when Aaron casts aside his stupor, flings scalding coffee in Mallory’s direction and efficiently assaults her over the table.
The fight ends as Mallory—helped by a bystander who probably felt drawn to her because Mallory is easy on the eyes and initially appeared quite weak in the face of the assault—manages to break free from Aaron and escape the diner. That bystander, a fellow named Scott (Michael Angarano), happens to own a sporty little blue car. So Mallory talks her savior into letting her flee the scene in his vehicle with her driving. As she drives, she improbably tells Scott her story and has him tend to her wounded arm.
We learn then that the real story began in Barcelona, with a mission to extract a high-profile journalist who was spilling the sort of secrets that get people executed. Mallory, as an independent contractor of the variety that kicks people in the face and shoots guns, was assigned to see to it that the journalist made it safely to a trusted contact that would shepherd him out of the country. The mission admittedly does not go perfectly, but it goes well enough that the precious cargo leaves the safe house and Mallory eventually returns home to her apartment long enough to shower and notice that her father, John (Bill Paxton), sent her a copy of his latest book. Mallory is pleased to have wrapped up another successful mission, and she’s satisfied that she made sure there were no loose ends.
She’s wrong about the loose ends, though, or there wouldn’t have been a movie and there wouldn’t have been that unpleasant moment with Aaron in the diner. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t do a very good job—at first—of revealing just what the loose ends really are. The dots are difficult enough to connect for a while that we are left to find things out alongside Mallory while also grappling with confusing and unhelpful glimpses at a future that for a long time makes no sense.
As the real story begins, in Mallory’s apartment as she fusses with her hair, Mallory accepts another mission from her handler, Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), with whom she once shared an intimate history. He talks her into a mission that should be “a vacation” for her—and not an entirely unwelcome one—which is when she meets her new contact, a debonair man named Paul (Michael Fassbender). Not long after she meets the affable fellow, she discovers that not everything is playing out the way she had reason to expect it to. It takes some time, but slowly she puts together an unpleasant picture of herself getting screwed by the very agency that hired her.
“Haywire” is appropriately named, then, but the first half of the movie is such a mess that it’s hard to appreciate anything the director and actors might be doing right. The fault doesn’t lie entirely with the script, but it’s difficult not to wish that someone had convinced director Steven Soderbergh to just shoot things in the proper order. Presented in a more linear manner, “Haywire” is a conventional double-cross story with a sexy heroine, subdued but credible action sequences, beautiful shots of interesting places and a slew of great supporting actors, all of whom do a better job than the material deserves.
If you’re prepared to put up with the narrative foolishness, “Haywire” definitely picks up during its second half and a lot of pieces fall into place so that you can finally relax and enjoy some skillfully shot chase scenes. There’s enough to like that you’ll probably find yourself entertained, but you have to work for it and the payoff doesn’t necessarily justify the effort that it takes to get there.