Haywire is another typical, unexpected gem from Steven Soderbergh. It’s a fast, stylish almost throwaway exercise in genre filmmaking which is what makes it so fun. Unashamedly a vanity project originated by the director to transform real-life mixed martial artist Gina Carano into a badass action heroine, the star definitely has the looks and the muscle for the part and her character’s steely persona is a clever front to mask her inexperienced acting ability.
The film doesn’t have much range but it works amazingly well in the small pitch it does occupy by delivering the goods through brutal and simply choreographed fight sequences as well as a slick digital aesthetic. The film truly kicks into overdrive at around the halfway point when Soderbergh finally lets his secret weapon loose against Michael Fassbender.
There’s a bunch of reasons why this scene is so effective and singular. It could be presented out of context and work as a brilliant short film simply because it does so much at once. Not only does it flip gender expectations completely on their head it also subverts action-movie tropes and basic rules of the fight sequence. You have Michael Fassbender, practically playing James Bond suited and booted in a shiny suit, dashingly escorting Mallory Kane (Carano), also elegantly clad in a stunning dinner dress, back to their hotel room. Once inside Fassbender suddenly lays his knuckles into his female partner sending her crashing to the ground. Then Carano swiftly gets back to her feet and proves herself to be worthy opponent by giving just as good right back to him, repeatedly. The two proceed to practically destroy the hotel room as they engage in a painfully calculated prolonged martial-arts battle. In Haywire you can feel the punches, and you can feel them even more when they’re being laid into Carano herself. We’re hardwired to expect women in films to be fragile and vulnerable so there’s added surprise and pleasure from seeing her not only sustain her beatings but retaliate with more agressive blows and ultimately come out on top of her male opponents with little fuss. A genuine woman of steel. Soderbergh’s choice to keep his fight scenes completely stripped of music too is a master stroke. He instead relies on the rhythm of the punches to score his violence.
There’s also something really sexy about this sequence. In a twisted way it’s the most original sex scene 2012 had to offer. Like any standard depiction of love-making the scene is all about release, the collision of human flesh and intense passion. The way their flashy attire is slowly torn away by primal claws – Fassbender’s shirt is violently unbuttoned and Carano’s tights become increasingly laddered – only reinforce this idea further. As the scene reaches it’s heated climax with Fassbender’s head clamped firmly between Carano’s thighs – it’s hard to ignore the steamy air that fills the battered room.