Steven Soderbergh fans got an early treat when AFI FEST 2011 presented by Audi announced its “Secret Screening” pick: “Haywire,” directed by Steven Soderbergh; written by Lem Dobbs; and starring Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, and introducing Gina Carano. The line wrapped around Hollywood’s Chinese Theatre and much of the back end of the Hollywood and Highland complex Sunday night, and would later fill the 1152 seat Chinese Theatre to capacity. The unusually crisp fall night was electric as director and stars walked the red carpet.
President and CEO of the American Film Institute Bob Gazzale introduced Soderbergh as the man who re-energized the independent film scene back in 1989 with “Sex, Lies, and Videotape.” As AFI FEST celebrates its 25th year, Gazzale was pleased to have Soderbergh’s 25th film, “Haywire,” as the festival’s “Secret Screening” pick. Audiences were equally enthused.
“Haywire” is a fast-paced thrill ride centering on Mallory Kane (Gina Carano, a real-life Mixed Martial Arts fighter), who plays a highly trained operative who works for a secret government security contractor. As one of the most sought-after operatives, Mallory finds herself the suspect of a murder after a Chinese journalist she rescued in Barcelona is later found dead. As everything goes “haywire,” Mallory must turn the tables on those she once trusted to find the truth and save her own life.
As with Soderbergh’s “Contagion,” “Haywire” starts with a bang and never lets up. Carano is simply amazing in her fight scenes, which are so realistic they leave viewers breathless. Like his “Ocean’s Eleven” films, Soderbergh plays with past and present time frames, revealing bits of information at key moments. Handheld camera work and long tracking shots add additional energy to the action and chase scenes. The film’s plot and visuals are always moving.
In the highly entertaining Q&A after the screening, moderator Joel McHale asked Soderbergh how this film came about. Soderbergh explained that he was watching an MMA fight on CBS one Saturday night and caught Carano fighting. He thought, “somebody should really build a movie around this woman … she’s a natural beauty and she beats people into a pulp in a cage.” Soderbergh said that he always liked the early Bond films, like “From Russia with Love,” and he thought he could combine his interest in spy films with an unusual and compelling new person.
So the director reached out to Lem Dobbs, the writer of his earlier films “Kafka” and “The Limey.” Soderbergh said he basically told Dobbs that “[Gina] needs to beat her way through the cast.” He and Dobbs mapped out an outline of this revenge movie in about a month.
“It all started very, very quickly and that’s always a good sign,” Soderbergh said.
Talking about the fight scenes, the actors had nothing but praise for Carano. In fact, Ewan McGregor even quipped a funny incident about her strength. McGregor explained that in their fight scene, there was a three-punch combo and on the second right he had to punch over Carano’s head while she ducked. But the actress didn’t duck as much as she should and McGregor punched her right in the head.
Gina bounced straight back and asked, “Are you OK?” McGregor joked, “And she was right, I really [expletive] hurt my hand, and she didn’t even feel it.”
Soderbergh once again has created a film that is simply fun to watch. “Haywire” is a pulsating twister. Gina Carano might just be Hollywood’s next big action star.
“Haywire” is 90 minutes and Rated R. It opens January 20, 2012.
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