I’ve been made aware recently that not everyone regards Steven Soderbergh as a genius. Before I argue the case, and using Haywire, I will admit that flicking onto Ocean’s Thirteen a couple of nights ago did make me acknowledge the other side of the argument – even when this was the film that recouped the franchise after the bastard middle child that was Ocean’s Twelve had been let loose on an indulgent public. O13 has all those elements of slick plotting and Rat Pack glamour without quite the soul of a good movie. This from the man who was the instigator of the 1990s independent cinema boom with his debut feature sex, lies and videotape and therefore perenially associated with a form of filmmaking that is all about soul on minimal budgets. Soderbergh is a master of the ‘one for them, one for me’ system of making films – after he experienced several years in the wilderness after his second and subsequent features failed to hit the mark as that elusive quality of ‘indie’ yet ‘commercial’ – the monster he was involved in creating. Schizopolisis the love letter to audiences that means Soderbergh (for me) never has to say he’s sorry.
On first glance, Haywire might appear as the ‘one for them’ option. It’s in a mainstream genre; it stars Gina Carano as a ‘kick-ass’ female action star – a popular generic twist already well established by Angeline Jolie. so Carano should be Matrix-kicking at an open door. She does – with aplomb – but within a far classier product that recalls Soderbergh’s capacity with reinvention of genre (as in his comeback crime thriller Out of Sight) and his cineaste love of those late 60s and early 70s complexities. Reviews have discussed the ‘real’ violence on screen – performers visibly hurt/winded during fight sequences or stunts – and the opening scene suggests this kind of action is going to be relentless. In fact, what Soderbergh constructs (as his own cinematographer and editor – check out the regular pseudonyms) is a series of raids or attacks, long set pieces that spend more time crafting tension than releasing it spectacularly. It recalls some of the ambience of The Limey – setting, music and the camerawork which, despite its very phycsical action, instinctively sends me back to the great 60s heist movies rather than more obvious models. Of these, Carano’s character is immediately reminiscent of Jason Bourne – but we are not in the situation of the agent gone rogue/on the run to discover that the government structure is not to be trusted. We are already in post-belief world of sub-contracted, privatised assassinations – the issue of whether Michael Douglas’s American official is to be trusted never seems to be in play.
It’s a great genre piece – a modern action flick. As ever, Soderbergh’s handling of it means that it’s The Thomas Crown Affair, perhaps even Rififi (albeit cinematographically so different) I want to return to (as well as the obvious references to Point Blank and Get Carter that have featured in review). Perhaps if only to work out whether it’s Ewan McGregor or Michael Fassbender who best captures Faye Dunaway’s indeterminate duplicity(!). Gina Carano has already convinced me that she might be a reasonable replacement, more generally, for Steve McQueen’s relatively silent and unreconstructed brand of hero.