I, for one, am not excited by the notion that director Steven Soderbergh has decided to stop making films. Of course, we all hope he changes his mind and either doesn’t stop, or just takes a short hiatus and returns sooner than later. But no matter what decision he ultimately makes, it’s invigorating and inspiring to know that he’s pushing the envelope right up to the end. Well, almost. I have yet to see his last two films, SIDE EFFECTS and BEHIND THE CANDELABRA. But if his two films before these are any indication, something tells me I’m gonna like them.
HAYWIRE took me by surprise. With a leading actress few of us ever heard of but who is startlingly charismatic, beautiful and kicks some serious on-screen ass, and a smart script that moves around in time as it unravels its intriguing mystery thriller of intelligence agency betrayals, HAYWIRE plays like a film smack out of the 70’s. Though some critics essentially called it a poor man’s BOURNE IDENTITY, the film has far more in common with cinematic masterpieces like John Boorman’s POINT BLANK than it does with anything more contemporary. Poor man’s, my ass. There’s nothing poor man’s about HAYWIRE. It’s the work of a director at the top of his game and, while I enjoyed the first BOURNE movie, if there’s any relation to be found here, HAYWIRE is its wiser and far more accomplished (and extraordinarily distant) much older cousin (ten times removed).
Gina Carano, a former professional Muay Thai kickboxer and Mixed Martial Arts world champion, carries HAYWIRE from first frame to last. She is backed by an extraordinary cast that includes, Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas, Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum and Bill Paxton. The action erupts out of quiet tension and is startlingly vivid and naturalistic as Soderbergh chooses to present these breathtaking and completely non-digitally-altered fight sequences sans music, giving the action an incredibly raw, unsettling and unexpectedly potent kick.
For me, HAYWIRE is simply a terrific film, a rare treat that shows us that American cinema is not dead, it’s just currently relegated to the shadows. At least on its home turf.
Soderberg followed HAYWIRE with the outstanding and vastly entertaining MAGIC MIKE, which also stars Channing Tatum, an actor I never bothered to pay attention to until Soderbergh forced me. I’m glad he did because Tatum shines in both films (despite my aversion to guys that remind me of frat boys). MAGIC MIKE is, in a way, Soderbergh’s BOOGIE NIGHTS only (and I’ll catch a world of shit for this), I think MAGIC MIKE is a far better, far more accomplished film. Where BOOGIE NIGHTS felt like a talented and not quite mature young filmmaker let off the leash in a room full of really amazing film toys and celebrity actors, MAGIC MIKE shows the subtlety, restraint and nuance of a mature and practiced artist at the top of his game. Yeah, I know many will disagree with me here, but like it or not, this is what the world looks like from where I stand.
Soderbergh’s humor and compassion, mixed with his love of actors and fantastically 70’s-influenced storytelling skills (as well as a much-needed-and-sorely-lacking-in-most-American-films desire for narrative risk-taking), makes MAGIC MIKE an incredibly welcome movie-watching experience for this oft disappointed filmgoer.
I hope if it comes to pass that Soderberg does, indeed, move on from his filmmaking career, that other young filmmakers will take his lead and find a way to express themselves without compromise and push the medium where it needs to go: Ahead, and not stagnating in the realm of bigger-is-better rehashes that all feel far too moribund and homogeneous.
Is that too much to ask?