Haywire (2011)

(On-demand video, June 2012) Director Steven Soderbergh likes to tinker with established formulas and he also seems to be increasingly fond of casting coups.  This explains why Haywire is a lot like his previous The Girlfriend Experience in casting a non-professional actress in the leading role –this time, martial artist Gina Carano as the tough heroine of this revenge film.  Small touches everywhere make it clear that this is an artful take on a stock exploitation premise: The rhythm of the film is a bit slower than most revenge thrillers, the script makes use of a half-hearted framing device; the direction tries to avoid most of the prevailing action clichés.  But it’s Carano’s odd performance that sets the film apart: she’s both unpolished and convincing in ways that leap out of the usual Hollywood mode.  She’s not from the same acting schools as other female performers, and Soderbergh seems perfectly happy to indulge in the rough edges of her acting.  It makes for a thriller that’s less slick and perhaps a bit more intriguing than similar offerings such as Colombiana or any of the half-dozen female-assassins films of the past decade.  The script could have been polished to a more accessible whole (the dialogue seems self-consciously cryptic at times), but Haywire is definitely a Soderbergh film in how it refuses to take the safe, broadly-accessible choices.  Viewers coming in with set expectations of a run-of-the-mill thriller may find themselves bewildered by what makes it on-screen.  On the other hand, viewers with some appreciation for genre experiments will, much like last year’s Hanna, find intriguing things in the result even as the film doesn’t succeed in being conventionally entertaining.

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