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Movie of the Day: Haywire

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What Is It?

When a covert operative (Gina Carano) finds herself caught in the middle of a double cross, she’s forced to use her knowledge of spycraft (and all-around badass fighting skills) to expose the truth.

What’s Cool About It?

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, Haywire combines the setup of a Hollywood action thriller with his lo-fi indie filmmaking and Hitchcockian plot turns. As opposed to just a simple mission oriented spy movie, the film presents a complicated (and arguably much more accurate) depiction of espionage as a tangle of private contractors, amoral bureaucrats and public agencies. Soderbergh’s shown an interest in both Kafka and Hitchcock throughout his career, and this film channels those into a labyrinthine nightmare that’s nevertheless more subtle than, say, Kafka. Channing Tatum, who would become a masculine muse for the director, offers perhaps his most minimalist performance in a cast that also includes Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor and the late king of understatement Bill Paxton.

Can MMA Fighters Act?

While the entire cast is loaded with big names, Soderbergh chose a relative unknown – at least to audiences not versed in female MMA circles – for the film’s lead. To be fair, there’s a pretty long tradition of martial arts stars that predated Carano’s appearance in this movie, from Bruce Lee to Jet Li (with some pit stops at JCVD and Chuck Norris along the way). The main difference with Carano’s casting in this film is that Soderbergh is (kind of?) an art film director, though if, say, Quentin Tarantino had put her in a movie no one would have blinked. The other big differences between Carano and her predecessors is that martial arts has since become institutionalized in pro sports through the UFC. And also she’s a woman. Soderbergh clearly wanted to create a sense of realism in this movie, so having a performer who knew how to fight and had the athleticism to perform stunts helped him achieve this. Having a female protagonist, especially one with little acting experience playing against established, award-winning men, also helps express the character’s isolation within the story. Much of this period of Soderbergh’s career was making films featuring performers with a connection to the subject matter – a former porn star plays a sex worker in The Girlfriend Experience, Tatum drew on his own male stripper background for Magic Mike, and in this film, a real-life action star portrays the action hero(ine).

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