What does a director do when the star of his movie is not an accomplished actress?
Director Steven Soderbergh faces that obstacle in Haywire, which stars Gia Carano, the Mixed Martial Arts star. He goes to great lengths to protect her.
By doing so, Soderbergh risks being over manipulative, but he makes Haywire work.
Haywire is as entertaining as a skillful cartoon. Gia is Road Runner, and her adversaries are a bunch of Wile E. Coyotes.
Soderbergh knows not to get in the way of the action - Gia is like a well-oiled spitfire. Let her race.
We see Gia run. We see Gia leap. We see Gia kick. We see Gia punch. We hear Gia pant. We hear Gia grunt. Gia is being Gia.
Soderbergh pushes the action button and tells the plot to stay out of Gia's way.
Gia Carano portrays Mallory, who is a rogue, covert operative who helped free a journalist held hostage in Barcelona, and then the kicks hit the fan.
Haywire begins in upstate New York, where Mallory is attacked by a man (Channing Tatum) in a diner. It's a ferocious brawl. Mallory escapes with young onlooker Scott (Michael Angarano) in his new car.
On the road fleeing in his car, she tells Scott about her exploits in Barcelona and Dublin, where she also was attacked. Soderbergh relies on visual flashbacks to spare her dialogue. There's also a heavy emphasis on peppy, dramatic music by David Holmes, who did the music on Soderbergh's Oceans Trilogy.
Haywire very possibly has the most speeches ever in a movie by a heroine that are made up of words of one syllable. Gia's new MMA is Mixed Monosyllabic Arts.
She says, "Yeah, I know." "Scott, you still with me?" "I don't like loose ends." "Can you zip me?" "I'll see you at the house." "You can tell me right now why you sold me out." "Can you bring me in?"
She's a one-syllable word machine.
It may be a symbolic scene when she shoots through a pillow. No dialogue needed.
When Gia finally builds up to saying the word "claustrophobic," it's like a knockout. But the four syllables exhaust her; she quickly returns to words of one syllable.
Not only did Soderbergh - with his screenwriter Lem Dobbs - give Gia very simple dialogue. He also altered her voice electronically to make it deeper.
Ironically the screenwriter has changed his name from Anton Lemuel Kitaj to Lem Dobbs. His original name had too many syllables.
The cartoon violence in Haywire is busy and hectic - and often bloodless. When Mallory punches an adversary in the face, it remains unbloodied and umarked.
Perhaps never in the history of sound film has a cast of talented major actors been given less to say. The cast is a roster of impressive talent: Tatum, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, and Bill Paxton. They have little dialogue, except a few of them get together near the end to try to explain the wayward plot. Lots of luck.
But Haywire belongs to its female star. Watch out, here comes monosyllabic, butt-kicking Gia.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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