Then there was the fact that these two points combined. It's a model that Steven Soderbergh used on his film The Girlfriend Experience and which worked really well to deliver a feeling of realism, and combined in Haywire I thought we were in for a level of authenticity we don't often see in action films all wrapped up with style galore.
From early on it's clear that what I had hoped the film was going to be is exactly what it was going to deliver, and some more. The opening scene, which has already been shown online, was stylish, considered and Steven Soderbergh allowed the action to be real and captured on screen. The camera was pulled back and Gina Carano was allowed to show off her talent for fighting without Soderbergh and the stunt team having to over block and edit every single movement.
This is one of my bug bears about action scenes in the cinema these days, the camera zooms into the action and each movement is filmed separately to avoid seeing the actors in the shots, and what we end up with is a frenzied flashing slideshow of short scenes where you get some idea of what is happening and only manage to put all the action together at the end of the scene and understand it all after the fact. I point to scenes such as the Bourne kitchen knife fight as a prime example.
From the opening scene, which doesn't take long to leap into the action, we see the exact opposite of this. The camera is pulled much further back and rather than cut the scene apart the camera pans and moves to follow the action, what this gives us is a real feeling of being an eye witness to the action, however the problem that this then gives to the film-makers is that they have to invest more in the realism of the fight.
Cue Gina Carano and the superbly committed co-stars of Channing Tatum, Ewan McGregor and Michael Fassbender who all seem to deliver as much as Carano seems to, particularly Fassbender and their extended fight sequence together.
Later in the film we see Fassbender and Carano in a fight sequence that tours a hotel room and shows the brutality of close combat. Kicks and punches seem to connect with a physicality you just don't normally see, or rather feel, and it's brought home even harder when you see a woman taking some seemingly real and powerful punches. Every kick and punch seems to connect, and the sounds compound the power and the impact. Gone is the dramatic, high beat music, instead we're left with the sounds of the fight.
These fight scenes are very well choreographed and the three actors seem to have been trained as much as any stuntman, and from watching the scene you'd believe that they are as involved as Carano is, again with particular mention to Fassbender's fight scene.
There's another affect that the pulling back of the camera and focussing on the action has and that's building up the realistic feel of the film. Gone are the opportunities to throw in reality bending moves and actions, twisting time and space in order to do something cool or merely move the action scene forward, instead with the actors fighting in front of our eyes and the audience feeling more like a witness than an viewer in an editing suite, it feels much more real than anything Bourne has delivered.
Reality is something that seems to be throughout this film and I'm going to pick out a few points that really hammer home the feeling that these scenes are done with little fanfare and cinematic over-hyping, rather interpreting what could be, and probably is, the reality of these situations.
One early scene is where we find the company talking with the government contact and discussing the job. It's all figures, payment terms and clauses for liability and protection. It's cold business, not fancy spy talk.
There aren't gadgets galore either, there are guns and explosives; earpieces and microphones; GPS phone tracking; phone backup software; computer software that looks like real programs; a tracking bug that isn't the size of a fly and undetectable, and so on. While the action is throwing out the Bourne feelings, the technical side is throwing out any thoughts of Bond.
When Mallory has to kill someone there's no thought, she disables them, gets them to the ground and without hesitation drops a pillow on their face and fires a gun, again without cuts and edits, soul searching or questions of leaving them alive but unconscious, she kills the threat and moves on. The action is brutal, quick and decisive.
Watch the car chase sequence for another example of the realistic approach. There aren't cars flying in the air, racing down steps and making impossible leaps that would rip the suspension off any normal vehicle, and probably did before the director yelled "cut". The chase sequence is as quick and decisive as the rest of the action, and is as influenced by chance as much as skill.
I loved the way that the entire car chase sequence was handled with the camera positions set-up to show our leading characters and the action going on directly in their viewpoint. They're not layering multiple cuts to show us everything that is going on; instead we are put into the passenger seat and taken along for the ride.
There's also a great moment at the end where Mallory accepts defeat, there's no managing to beat armed police from an unassailable position. Likewise the scene that follows has her explaining to the police exactly what they are getting into, once more trying to address the realism of the situation and what real people might do. She doesn't pick the locks and disarm the police, taking over the vehicle and rescuing the situation during some manic car chase.
Let me mention the roof chase sequence. There's no leaping across buildings managing to crash through a window, roll out of it and start shooting at the other side. The character doesn't know their surroundings and is trying to find a way of escape, any way they can, and it doesn't go according to plan, there's no nigh on unbelievable free-climbing or free-running involved.
The final point I'm going to make about the reality of the events in the film is a small moment that many will miss when the bad guys appear to meet the waiting police. There's no scene where they get out and discuss their plans, trying to fool them or other such conventions. Before the trucks have even stopped they start shooting and shoot to kill, and they kill them. Bullets don't ricochet all over the place with the gunmen being such poor shots that they fill the side of the cars with bullets without hitting anyone.
Actually I lied; I'll mention one more point just briefly. The scene in Mallory's father's house when a one of the characters is shot speaks volumes. It's done quickly, decisively and there's no great drawn out scene afterwards. It reflects almost all of the action in the film.
The film takes time throughout the scenes but never wastes time. I never felt that there was a moment on screen that shouldn't have been there or needed to be there, even transitional scenes felt that they added something, building tension or delivering some expositional need. There's a great example of this when Mallory and Paul are walking to their room together, we see a series of shots to show us their journey through the hotel but it's not about the layout of the hotel. Watching the characters slyly measuring each other up reveals their suspicions and uncertainty about each other.
It's cleverly done and because it doesn't seem to waste a shot it feels it adds to the feeling of the film keeping the drive going forward at a strong and steady pace throughout, something that the story, editing, stunt choreography and music all help to do.
That's worth mentioning too, it has great music throughout, and while it feels as though it might have been a perfect score for a Man from U.N.C.L.E. film, it fits this action film surprisingly well. It also knows just when to turn itself off, leaving the action sequences alone and coming in during the rest of the film helping build that tension and dramatic edge.
I do wonder if the story could have felt a little more impactful than it did. Although the pace was hugely effective I didn't feel the weight of the double cross or betrayal that you'd get in other films of the same genre, but then this isn't any other film in the same genre. I'm a little split on this.
Again there's a feeling that this is another healthy dose of reality as the betrayals are about money and business and there's no wasting time on overly emotional analysis of the situation, the agents get on and do what they do best, survive, investigate, defend and attack.
After reading what I've written there's one thing I feel I have to go back and mention about the film, and that's the camera work. The longer takes and the wider shot scenes are wonderful to see in an action film and pile on the authenticity, but they aren't just confined to these scenes. During the chase scene through the streets of Dublin the tension is palatable and you really do get a feeling of how it would be to be suspicious of everyone and on the run.
The camera follows Mallory for quite some time without a cut, watching how she monitors and reacts to the world around her, identifying threats, escaping them, and finding new ways out of the narrowing net. Again it piles on that feeling of authenticity and soaks you in the atmosphere.
You know I don't think I realised how much I really enjoyed Haywire until I wrote about it and replayed all the moments and aspects of the film I liked. I applaud Steven Soderbergh because he's delivered what I've been wanting in an action film, a healthy dose of realism, pulling the camera back to be a witness rather than being hand-held through every single movement and taking the story back from the fantastical.
To boot he's had the guts to do what he did with The Girlfriend Experience (Filmstalker review), but here I feel it's much more relevant and has more beneficial impact on the film, he's cast a lead who can handle herself, who can fight, and who could well be the deadly agent we expect to see in these films.
I don't believe I'm going overboard when I say he's given everyone the opportunity to redefine the action film, he and his team have certainly delivered a master class in how to do just that and I think it works superbly well for it.
Gone is everything over the top, and here we have a much more authentic thriller that drives forward and keeps the pace going.
We're never slapped back into the audience with hyper-reality, plots to destroy the world, machiavellian villains whose egos make them believe they are invincible, gadgets beyond technology, over the top stunts and fights that are so blocked and edited we can hardly make out what's happening.
It's about money, about business, about reputation. There really is a fight going on in front of our eyes, it hurts, and come the end someone will die, quickly and decisively.
Haywire delivered what I wanted and more and made me see there's a much better action film out there, that Gina Carano could lead a cracking thriller franchise, and that Soderbergh can make an action thriller like no one else.