Haywire, the recently released directorial effort by Steven Soderbergh which Jason nicely reviewed here, also marks the first starring role for Mixed Martial Arts fighter, Gina Carano. As anyone who’s seen the film can attest, Carano is a certified badass. She made the erst-while Magneto, Michael Fassbender, look like a little boy in way over his head in her insane hotel-room fight sequence. Channing Tatum, despite his greater bulk, never stood a chance. And by the time she started gunning for Ewan McGregor? Well no amount of Obi Wan-left over force was going to help him.
Steven Soderbergh has a knack for getting great performances out of unusual actors (see his use of porn star Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience), and Carano is no exception. As shaped by the masterly hand of Soderbergh, Gina Carano is every stoic badass you’ve ever seen on film, easily surpassing the actorly chops of 80s staples like Jean Claude Van Damme. She also represents an interesting shift in our cinematic takes on the ladies lately.
After years of pretty girl action stars (I’m talking everyone from Sydney Bristow to Buffy Summers to the ladies of Charlie’s Angels), this year has seen a rise of the seriously messed-up lady action star. Look at the other dark haired cinematic protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, and her revenge-fueled avalanche of destruction. Or look at Claire Danes (once pretty much America’s TV sweetheart)’s decidedly damaged spin on Showtime’s Homeland, which earned Danes’ a Golden Globe earlier this month.
Carano’s Mallory may not have the same level of damage as these, but watching a woman who trusts no one but her father to begin with slowly begin to grapple with the level of betrayal she is experiencing is nothing short of brilliant. But all three women are given rich inner lives and storylines that require them to act completely independently of romantic desires (though these are sometimes expressed, obviously). Though not by any stretch of the imagination are these women role models (maybe Mallory), they do represent an intriguing shift away from the woman-under-male-tutelage action roles we’ve come to expect. And the rich inner life of these characters also represents a shift towards more cerebral takes on badass women. This is not to say that this new cinematic trope is “better” than any other (far be it for me to impugn Buffy Summers), merely that I like the full spectrum of awesomeness it seems like women are getting to play in action movies lately.
At the end of the day, Haywire was a mostly fun action movie with an insanely talented cast and a great director, but what I took out of it more than anything else is just how cool an action movie presence Gina Carano is, and how much fun it will be to see if other directors pick her up from Soderbergh.