Movie Review: “Haywire”

Written by Melissa MacAulay January 29, 2012

A feminized spin on an old classic? Sounds good to this feminist.

The first time I’d ever heard of the film Haywire, a friend described it to me as “The next Bourne Identity, but with a woman instead of a man.” Being the good feminist that I am, I was excited about the prospect of a strong female lead in a film that is, nonetheless, not marketed solely to a female audience. Certain such films, such as Hanna or Kill Bill, make me like to think that filmmakers have started to realize that female characters need not be a special case, consigned forever to the realm of rom-coms, dramas, sexy sidekicks, and (the butts of) raunchy jokes.

Carano, luckily, is none of these things. Her character, Mallory Kane, is a former Marine working for a private firm that is contracted by the American government to carry out bad-ass missions that take place in exciting places, such as Barcelona and Dublin, making this film a pretty typical spy-thriller. Kane has a reputation for being the best at what she does, and knows it. The film begins with Kane on a rescue mission in Barcelona with colleague Aaron (Channing Tatum). On her second mission in Dublin with Paul (Michael Fassbender), Kane discovers that she is being set up by the firm’s director Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), and realizes that she is on her own.

Refreshingly, the filmmakers did not sexualize the crap out of this heroine – at least not to the extent of Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft, or Halle Berry’s Catwoman. Although her attractive attributes do not exactly go amiss in this film, I don’t think they’ve made her anymore sexy than, say , James Bond. Add to that the fact that Fassbender has a rather sexy getting-out-of-the-shower-in-his-towel scene, and I’ll pretty much call things even.

To add to Carano’s credibility as legitimate a bad-ass, she happens to be a real-life (retired) mixed martial arts fighter who holds some pretty impressive titles. In fact, anyone who’s watched NBC’s American Gladiator in the past few years may recognize her as a gladiator named “Crush.” Needless to say, Carano required no stunt-doubles for this film. Still, while I am no fighting expert, I couldn’t help but feel that something was lacking in some of the fight-scenes. Perhaps I can chalk that up to McGregor, who seems out of sorts in a fight scene without a lightsaber.  Or, maybe I was just distracted by his weird haircut and wonky American accent.

Most reviews of this film have already picked up on the fact that Carano’s acting skills aren’t quite as impressive as her fighting skills. Nonetheless, I think this adds something to her character, who isn’t exactly a laugh-a-minute in the first place. When you’re an ass-kicking, gun-wielding ex-Marine, who needs emotions?

Nonetheless, the filmmakers did ultimately feel the need to attempt to infuse her character with some sort of emotional-life – how else would the audience remember that she is, in fact, a woman? Kane’s father plays a significant role in the film, giving Kane a certain childlike-ness that I suppose is meant to serve as a contrast to her to tough, military-like exterior.  Still, I don’t think anybody ever expected James Bond to intermittently go back to visit his mummy in ol’ Blighty (OK, so James Bond is technically an orphan, but I think my point still stands).

Evidently, however, there was a further price to pay for such a strong female lead – i.e., having absolutely no other female characters in the entire film. And I mean none. (Consequently, if you care about these sorts of things, this film has not even a flicker of hope of passing the Betchdel Test.) It remains very clear that Mallory Kane is still very much playing a man’s game. In fact, when a certain character refers to Kane specifically as a woman, her boss response is:

“You shouldn’t think of her as being a woman. That would be your first mistake.”

All-in-all, although Haywire promises a refreshing twist on an old classic, the film is, in the end, just OK.  Carano is pretty good, and all the expected dressings of a decent spy-thriller are there (in the beginning at least), but by the end of the film I was just confused by the plotline, and more or less over it. I do hope, however, that this film signifies the continuation of a new trend in film; perhaps, in the future, I won’t have to get excited every time I hear about a potentially strong female lead.

My Rating: 6/10


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About Melissa MacAulay

Melissa MacAulay

Melissa is a PhD student in philosophy. When she is not busy publishing wildly successful books and making earth-shattering contributions to her field, she enjoys travelling, eating chocolate, playing with pugs, and writing film reviews.

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