Steven Soderbergh revitalized the martials art genre with his innovative new film "Haywire." The shame is that no one noticed. Using real-life cage fighter Gina Carano as his star/muse, Soderbergh’s film follows her government-sanctioned "private contractor" (aka hitwoman) as she is disavowed by her agency -led by a melodramatically smarmy Ewan McGregor - and is forced to fight her way from country-to-country to win her good name back. With the jazzy score, Soderbergh’s nonlinear editing, and the unabashed celebration of violence, this feels like Eurotrash cinema at it’s finest.
And that brings me to what’s so great about "Haywire" - it’s very jokey with the narrative (at one point even referring to someone as "Bad Guy #1") but the fights are as realistic and visceral as you’ve seen in a film before. Martial arts films have long employed real fighters, but you’ve never before felt like you were watching a real fight. This film’s centerpiece, with Carano squaring off against the ever-excellent Michael Fassbender, had me wincing once every second or two. It’s brutal and relentless; believable in its brevity and scary in its immediacy (Soderbergh even ends it with a legitimate MMA chokehold, as if to reference his star’s origin.)
The DVD comes with a mere few features - one on Carano’s training regiment, and another on the ’Men of Haywire’ (in addition to McGregor and Fassbender, the film features Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum, and Michael Douglas.) But the real attraction here is the combat - for perhaps the first time, America has turned out a martial arts film that can compete with the best works from Asia.