Soderbergh: Artistic Talent Gone Haywire

haywire

As you may know, I have done myself the favor of including in my three-year Self-Doctorate course some movies to see that I haven’t made time to see before.  They’re mostly “important” films, plus a few that have stung my curiosity for one reason or another.  Sometimes, there’s a director who is highly respected but whose movies I’ve seen so far have failed to impress me, so I try to give him a few more chances.

Case in point:  Steven Soderbergh.

I hardly ever like Soderbergh’s movies.  I don’t even like the ones he makes when he’s pandering, when he’s purposefully making a blockbuster in order (I have to think) to fund his other projects and to keep his name up there in the winners’ column (I’m talking about Oceans Twelve & Thirteen here).

I will never forgive Soderbergh for ruining The Limey.  You can watch that movie and see that absolutely everyone involved, from the writer to the actors to the camera operators to the lighting technicians, were doing a bang-up job— and then the director had to go and let them all down.  Terence Stamp, an underrated actor, was especially good.  That should have been a very big movie for him.

Nevertheless, Soderbergh is an Oscar winner and is considered one of the great directors of the age.  Alright, I think to myself, I’ll give the bloke another go.

So I watched Soderbergh’s Haywire.  Soderbergh seems to be attempting to tear through different genres in last few years.  With this movie, he can check off his “martial arts” box.  Lots of fighting here.  The fight sequences, actually, are what the rest of the movie is built around.  But they are very good sequences.

There are different types of fight scenes in movies… from the realistic (which is rarely used anymore) to the over-the-top stuff with lots of wire work and fast cuts to hide the unrealities (this is, today, the normal style).  I’m not a big fan of fight movies myself, but I have to say, I think the fight scenes in Haywire strike the perfect balance between flinch-inducing reality and entertaining, eye-popping moves.

Because of the talent and dedication of his actors, the fighting is startling real in Haywire, with just enough movie flamboyance to heighten the beauty of the body movements to the levels of dance or gymnastics.  Sure, maybe the main character did not have to do a flip-kick off the wall to take down the bad guy, but hey—it looked damn cool… and, what is more remarkable today, it looked believable.

The success of Haywire owes as much to its female lead as to its director.  Gina Carano makes an exceptional action star.  Apparently Soderbergh saw her on the telly fighting professionally and thought, “Wow!  Someone should build a movie around her!”  And so he did.

Carano deserves to be at least as big of an action star as Jason Statham or The Rock.  She displayed some awesome moves and is a fine enough actress for the demands of the action genre.  And giving credit where credit is due, Soderbergh makes the intelligent choice when it comes to an actor who is still learning her craft: it is better to have a developing actor underact than overact.  And the stoic performance of Carano works perfectly fine for the character she portrays (I have to believe the character was tailored to fit her strong points— again, an intelligent directorial choice).

And I have to give proper respect to Michael Fassbinder, as well, who as far as I know is an actor first and a trained fighter somewhere farther down the list.  He did an excellent job of holding up his side of the screen against Carano.  Apparently, they padded him up underneath his clothes, and he actually absorbed some pretty heavy body blows during the filming.  Of course, I’m sure a little padding doesn’t keep one from feeling the pain when a professional fighter such as Carano kicks you in the solar plexus and sends you flying through a door.

Nevertheless, beyond the exceptional fight scenes—some of the best ever filmed—the movie’s got nothing.

I think Soderbergh often overthinks his movies.  He forgets that we, the audience, never saw those three vital scenes he left on the cutting room floor.  Or that maybe we didn’t get the memo that he intended the movie to be an homage to some obscure 1970s director.  Soderbergh is an ar-teest.  In his case, this makes for movies with a few highpoints with lots of dullness inbetween.  Good pacing is not his forte.

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