Hollywood needs more action heroines like Mallory Kane.  The protagonist in Steven Soderbergh’s spy thriller “Haywire” is strong and sexy like Lisbeth Salander, except she doesn’t have to show any skin to prove it.  Portrayed by MMA fighter Gina Carano, Kane has the cunning of Jason Bourne combined with the fighting skills of Jackie Chan.    

What really separates Kane from her sisters in the genre though, is her lack of emotional attachment.  This isn’t to say that she doesn’t care about anyone, because she does love her father.  However Kane doesn’t let her emotions cloud her judgment, in the usual fashion that many female characters do in Hollywood.  Instead, she maintains an even keel and focuses on the tasks necessary to accomplish her mission.       

“Haywire” starts in the snowy woods, where a cautious Kane wanders into remote diner.  She finds a table and settles in for what she hopes to be a relaxing cup of tea.  During this scene, tension is effectively built through ominous music and ambient sounds which magnify Kane’s paranoia.  Her respite is not meant to last though, since it is soon interrupted by her colleague (Channing Tatum) who has come to retrieve her.  As they converse, your anxiety continues to grow until it culminates in a chaotic exchange of blows, which allow Kane to escape.

As Mallory speeds to safety, we come to find out why she’s wanted, through a series of flashbacks that reveal she is a freelance operative employed by a mercenary group.  Her trouble starts with a rescue extraction in Barcelona that almost goes awry and climaxes in a Dublin undercover operation, where she’s double-crossed by her employer.  The rest of the film follows Mallory’s struggle to survive so that she can uncover why she was betrayed and exact revenge on her oppressors.      

With Steven Soderbergh at the helm, “Haywire” is a visual feast.  He shoots his actors with a warm yellowish glow indicative of artificial light, which he somehow impressively carries over into daylight exterior action.  His fight scenes are also entertaining because he takes them from a slightly wider angle, so you can actually see what the characters are doing to hurt each other.  This style is a welcome relief from choppy quick cuts and handheld fare typical of the genre.

Despite a female lead whose expertise is in martial arts, “Haywire” surprisingly leans more on the espionage side of the story than on pure action.  One of the primary reasons the film excels in this arena is the score by David Holmes, which can best be described as an “Ocean’s” movie mashed together with a James Bond adventure.  His slick bass lines make the planning phases of seem extra cool, and his bell chimes turn mission sequences unsettling. 

The other key to the movie’s success as a spy thriller is Soderbergh’s camera, which follows Kane into some unorthodox places.  An excellent example involves a chase sequence where Kane is dashing across rooftops and climbing around buildings to escape the authorities.  As she scales pipes and ledges, the camera follows her into all sorts of strange nooks and crannies, transporting you into the moment.             

Last, but not least, it would be a disservice not to mention the stellar supporting cast which adds personality to the movie: Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender, and Antonio Banderas.  Even with Soderbergh, Holmes, and awesome actors however, “Haywire” isn’t perfect.  Toward the end it starts to lose steam, and at times Carano’s performance can be a bit stiff.  Minor annoyances aside, “Haywire” is a kick-ass spy caper, which is fun to watch.    

My Grade: A-