I’d like to think that when Lem Dobbs set out to write this script, he did so with only one challenge in mind: to begin and end the film on the word “shit.” I’d also like to think that was inspired by the much-praised scene between McNulty and Bunk in The Wire‘s first season where they investigate a crime scene trading only variations on the word “fuck.”
That opening “shit” also reminds me of Steven Spielberg’s discussion of how he was able to do a little audience manipulation in JAWS, letting them titter at Brody’s weary “Come down here and chum some of this shit” right before letting the shark break the surface of the water and freak them out. Dobbs throwing that four-letter word in from the get-go sets up nicely the exhausted conversation between Mallory and Aaron that you’re just about settled into when he tosses a cup of hot coffee right in her face.
I still remember the pure shock I felt when that first big fight began. The brutality of it is still incredible. The lack of music, the dull thud of each punch, the realistic gun shots, and the rawness of the whole thing. It felt like a real fight, albeit one between two trained counterintelligence agents. Soderbergh only really gets back to that same level one other time, preferring instead to play the superstar secret agent card in her attacks on the Irish police and the other agents who descend on her father’s house to capture/kill her. But that is precisely what makes that first showdown and the terrifying one in the hotel room between Mallory and Paul so damn memorable. The cartoon-y elements of the violence are removed and you’re left wondering if the actors really did get hurt as they filmed it all.
What shouldn’t surprise me is how audiences responded to this movie. Like SOLARIS, the film was very well-received by critics but moviegoers thought it was pretty terrible. I’m still trying to parse out why. You’d think that the notion of watching a woman step up and kick some ass would be something folks would love to see.
My theory is that Gina Carano isn’t a hyper-sexualized figure in the film. She gets dolled up for the party outside of Dublin but shows very little skin. She even complains earlier about having to wear a dress in the first place. Outside of that, she opts for utilitarian clothing that allows her freedom of movement. Compare that to the outfits that Lara Croft or Alice from the RESIDENT EVIL films are poured into. Add to it the one pseudo-sex scene where Mallory is the one leading the charge (and you don’t get to see anyone’s naked flesh) and is it any wonder that teen boys in middle America responded so poorly to this?
I firmly believe that HAYWIRE is one of those movies that will find a rabid audience now that it’s freely available on streaming services and DVD/Blu-ray. At the very least, I’d love it to be a calling card for the Broccoli family in the hopes that they could coax Soderbergh out of his so-called retirement and let him direct a future James Bond movie. Dare to dream, eh?