Saturday, January 21, 2012

Off the List: Haywire

I got a chance to see this today with a buddy of mine that also likes action films. For years, the two of us have been catching movies together that our significant others would be less likely to be interested in, and this action-espionage movie was definitely something that appealed to us more than our significant others. The movie is surprisingly good. And not in the "I was expecting it to be bad, but it wasn't" sort of way. No, it was a bona-fide piece of real craftsmanship. The movie is very spare and minimalist and not terribly original. It's a standard "betrayed fugitive spy" plot that film viewers have seen dozens of times before. However, it really shines in its hand-to-hand combat scenes, which are some of the best I have ever seen. Let me elaborate on this a bit. First, the fights are not close-in quick-cutting things. The camera pulls back and shows all of what's going on, including the background, which is occasionally important and sometimes not. Things get broken, people push off of walls and furniture with limbs to get extra leverage, and the characters generally exchange a few blows and then move to grappling, just like a real fight. Absolutely everybody is a combat pragmatist. It's all incredibly visceral and very satisfying, and it's all very weighty feeling. The movie conveys a real feeling that getting hit sucks. I think one of the reasons this all works so well is that the lead actress, Gina Carano, is an MMA fighter of considerable skill. I'd never seen her in anything before and in fact didn't even know her name. While she's certainly as pretty as any other actress I've seen, she did a much better job of making me believe that she's actually as dangerous as she's supposed to be based on the script than any female action star I've ever seen. Curious, when I got home I looked her up on and all of a sudden everything clicked. The authenticity of the fights, however, would be useless if the other actors, script, and/or directing weren't good, and I'm happy to report that they were all at least serviceable. Ewan MacGregor is never, ever bad, and Michael Douglas, Bill Paxton, and Antonio Banderas have pretty solid records themselves. Also deserving of special mention: despite its somewhat violent subject material, the movie shows considerable restraint. There's very little gore, very little foul language, and while the lead is stunning, there's nary a gratuitous T&A shot to be seen, which is refreshing. The movie was a lot slower-paced than I'd expected, but it was smart and even genuinely funny in a couple of places. Highly recommended and will probably wind up in my library. I'd like to watch this a couple more times, as it seems like the sort of film that would benefit from repeated viewings.

RPG notes: As usual, this will contain spoilers. Spoilery, spoileriffic spoilers. So stop reading if you haven't seen the film. First, anyone planning on playing any sort of unarmed warrior character should watch this film twice and take notes. The coffee ambush from the film's opening scene in particular stands out as the sort of combat ruthlessness that would make a Krav Maga instructor proud. The plot is fairly standard, so there's not much to pull from there, but I did like the idea that not all black ops types are ruthless, amoral, and disinterested in the safety of innocents around them. Mallory did a pretty good job of splitting combatants into groups of those who were genuine bad guys (like the ex-MI6 guy sent to kill her) and people who didn't deserve to be killed or maimed (like the SWAT team sent after her) and fighting appropriately. There's also an excellent case for characters trained in hand-to-hand combat even in these days of automatic weapons in this film.

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