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AFI FEST 2011. Steven Soderbergh's "Haywire"

"Haywire is, like The Informant!, a movie shaped by the rhythms and rules of 70s and 60s entertainment."

Kevin Jagernauth's sources have proven reliable (whew!). As he predicted at the Playlist last week, Steven Soderbergh's Haywire did indeed turn out to be Sunday night's surprise sneak preview at the AFI FEST. Early reviews suggest that, while Soderbergh has over the past several years tended to make either large-scale thrillers for the studios or low-key, small-budget films for himself, Haywire falls somewhere in between.

Steven Zeitchik for the Los Angeles Times: "The studio quotient is satisfied by the locations (Dublin, Barcelona, Washington), the stars (Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender and Channing Tatum) and the general Bourne-ishness and Salt-iness of the premise, in which... well, it's complicated, but basically [an] assassin hopscotches to distant locales and fends off, with a pugilistic flourish, the enemies lurking in the shadows. But Haywire is also a film with the offbeat sensibility of Soderbergh's smaller work, a sensibility evident right from the opening scene in an upstate New York diner. Even more tellingly, like Bubble and [The Girlfriend Experience] (the latter of course sought to reconstruct adult-film star Sasha Grey as a mainstream actress), Haywire is fashioned around a first-timer — the mixed-martial arts star Gina Carano, whom Soderbergh spotted while watching some televised fights and decided to build a movie around. As Soderbergh put it at a post-screening question-and-answer session, 'She's a natural beauty, and she beats people to a pulp in a cage. Why wouldn't you want to build a movie around her?'"

For James Rocchi, writing at the Playlist, "Carano's screen presence evokes nothing less than 70s Pam Grier — where the effect is not that of an actor giving a natural and charismatic performance in a film, but, rather, a natural and charismatic person acting in a film. Carano's line readings are occasionally atonal and flat, but that's more than compensated for in the scenes where her personality and poise shine through, and if her voice may lack an elegant flow and nimble range of motion, her body, in action, has both of those in a way that speaks louder than words…. Shot by Soderbergh himself, as ever, Haywire is, like The Informant!, a movie shaped by the rhythms and rules of 70s and 60s entertainment. If you can imagine an action film where every fight plays out with the closed-quarters kill-or-die power of Connery vs Shaw in the train compartment in From Russia With Love — and get what that kind of intensity, energy and actors hurling themselves into their own action work means in an age of digital effects, wire-work and stunt doubles — then you will appreciate just how good Haywire is."

For Kate Erbland, writing at Film School Rejects, "though Haywire is very much the sort of slick, sassy Soderbergh we've come to expect from the prolific director, it's bogged down with a poor sense of story development and some less-than-clever plotting conceits. There are a few too many happy accidents in Haywire – a taxi that's in the right place at the right time, an off-handedly grabbed umbrella that slows a pursuer, an unexpected ally – that make screenwriter Lem Dobbs's work look messy and that will make audiences wish for the smarter scripts of the first two Ocean's Eleven films. Mallory [Carano] tells us early on that she doesn't like loose ends, but Haywire leaves enough of them dangling that they linger like the bruised business end of right hook."

"Haywire is a typical action movie wrapped in atypical action skin," writes Germain Lussier at /Film.

"No matter how Haywire does with critics or audiences, Gina Carano has the makings of a real action star," argues Craig Kennedy, who also has notes from the post-screening Q&A.

Updates: "[W]here Haywire excels — and has the most unadulterated fun — is in reveling in the sight of watching Carano take on her famous co-stars in close-quarters combat," writes Jen Yamato at Movieline. "They may outperform her with character work and the spoken word, but no accomplished actor in the cast can conjure the pure glee of Carano believably tossing grown men around, or kicking an enemy — one played by an Oscar-hopeful in this year’s awards race, no less — clear through a glass-paned door."

"Soderbergh's latest picture is a lean, efficient exercise tossed off with his customary sangfroid and wickedly dry sense of humor," writes Justin Chang for Variety. "Slated for a Jan 20 release, Haywire was actually shot and completed before Soderbergh's disease drama Contagion, to which it serves as a sleek, escapist companion piece — another casually star-studded, globe-trotting thriller about the system's inability to contain a lethal, fast-moving rogue element…. The thrill of Haywire derives from the fluidity of the filmmaking, from the unique visual inflections and fleet rhythms Soderbergh achieves as DP and editor (working under his usual pseudonyms) to the camera's unblinking, almost deadpan record of Carano's altogether astounding displays of athletic prowess (expertly choreographed by JJ Perry)."

Update, 11/8: "The script makes no attempt to assert its plausibility or realism," writes Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter. "[I]t is, instead, refreshingly frank about what it is, a simple, workable framework for the melees and mayhem."

Update, 11/10: New trailer:

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