Spy films have evolved over the years. Recently, we’ve begun to see throwbacks like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, but the current approach is generally more like Bourne or the new Mission Impossible or Bond. These films are more action than mystery, more adventure than Hitchcockian suspense. There is room and time for all of these approaches, but expectation will set the filter you enter a film with.
Haywire, despite its name (which I never did understand), has a gritty reality which harkens back to spy films out of the late 70s and 80s and that does it both credit and hurts its enjoyment. Credit goes to the fights, thanks to its MMA fighting star Carano, which are honest and brutal. To enhance that reality, Soderbergh keeps the music absent or quiet during the sequences.
Where it hurts is that as viewers, we’re not used to silent background anymore… music guides our emotions in movies… a bit too much, to be honest. However, we have grown accustom to it and its absence is noticed. What becomes odd is that the framework of the story is still very much like a big Bourne action film, so the expectation is for the music and slick-shots and explosions. These really don’t come. He uses natural lighting. The sound is near ambient in quality. And the pacing is natural rather than frenetic.
In the end, the movie doesn’t drive forward in either a suspense nor in action mode, at least not by current expectations. But, honestly, there are energy problems beyond the style. Now, I don’t expect Tatum to jump off the screen ever, but even actors like McGregor and Douglas aren’t popping off or controlling the screen. The film feels very flat and under energized. Given the consistency of this effect, it has to be laid at the foot of the director more than the actors.
As a story teller, Soderbergh has always had a strong hand, though a rather wide sense of approach. He made that clear when he broke onto the scene with sex, lies, and video tape back in 1989. If you want a sense of where this movie falls in his range, Haywire is more The Limey or Traffic than it is Oceans Eleven. And it works better than his recent Contagion, which ended up more polemic than story. Each of these films has similar story-telling, particularly in the style of the reveals, but there is a dichotomy of size from very small, independent to big-budget.
Haywire probably would have been improved by being a bit more like a big action flick, but I can’t say it wasn’t interesting. Then again, it just wasn’t all that exciting, either.