DIRECTED BY: Steven Soderbergh
STARRING: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas
Director Steven Soderbergh announced recently that he was planning to retire from the film business to concentrate on his painting. Which seemed like a shame at first, the thought of losing the kind of talent that can craft a film like Traffic, or like the excellent Out Of Sight. Especially if the movie world is losing such a man to the abysmal twilight zone of modern art.
Then along came his latest movie, and the realisation that, if Soderbergh’s retirement means fewer films like Haywire doing the rounds, then it can’t come a day too soon.
Haywire marks the acting debut of Gina Carano, who’s apparently a big deal in the world of female mixed martial arts. And there is no doubt she will go on to become a big deal in the movie world, though probably not on account of her acting. She’s not quite on the same level as her ancestors, Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal, but she isn’t too many rungs higher.
Carano is Black Ops killing machine Mallory Kane, who’s on the warpath after a job goes bad in Barcelona, and is simultaneously being hunted across the globe by an army of dangerous men. Most of them work for Kane’s slimy security contractor Kenneth (McGregor), and live to regret the day they crossed an angry woman.
That sounds like a straightforward enough idea but the plot gets needlessly messy, the writing is very bland in parts, and there isn’t as much action as you might have thought. Mind you, when it does erupt, it’s pretty impressive stuff.
Mallory’s travels take her from New York to Barcelona, New Mexico and Washington. She also stops off in Dublin, where the unfortunate Michael Fassbender is on the receiving end of her talents. Other big names making appearances include Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum, and Bill Paxton as the warrior girl’s father. And you have to admire Soderbergh for managing to convince some of these chaps to come on board for what basically amounts to a cameo.
But you’d admire him more if his film was less of a drag.
DIRECTED BY: Clint Eastwood
STARRING: Leonardo Di Caprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench
J. Edgar Hoover ran the FBI with a dictator’s fist for the guts of half a century, never happy unless he was hating a president, reviling a civil rights leader, or flushing a Hollywood commie from under the bed. He also kept an extensive file on Elvis Presley, and how the King had perverted America’s youth. Though perhaps his worst crime was that he didn’t like The Beatles. As the great Mark Oliver Everett put it, “Show me a kid who doesn’t like The Beatles and I’ll show you a bad egg.”
By all accounts, assumptions and rumours, Hoover had quite the colourful personal life too. So a biopic was always going to be a fascinating prospect, especially so with a hand like Clint Eastwood’s at the helm.
Unfortunately, though, Eastwood is on a bad roll, coming into this on the back of the horrendous Hereafter. So what might have been one of the finer, more worthy films of the year, is really a bit of a mess. Literally, in the case of a make up department that will surely never find work in Hollywood again.
The film covers some of the well known details of the public figure – how Hoover (Di Caprio) despised the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, pitted himself against enemies real and imaginary, wore a brand of self-styled patriotism like an ugly badge (shades of modern right-wing America, there), and simultaneously advanced the field of criminal science.
It also delves into his private life – the relationship with his domineering mother (Judi Dench), and his close longterm friendship with FBI agent Clyde Tolson (Hammer). Eastwood doesn’t come right out and show that this was more than a constant companionship, but some of his hints are less than subtle.
You could say the same about Di Caprio, who spares no horses in portraying the man as a colossal creep, a seething monster who never had a chance at a redeeming feature. Which is probably accurate enough, though it’s a performance that frequently makes for unpleasant viewing.
And then there’s the make up, which is so bad it has to be seen. Though that might just work in Eastwood’s favour. Because if everyone is talking about how the characters in old age look like cheap horror movie zombies, then they might somehow forget the bad writing, the terrible plot structure, the hammy acting, and the unforgivable crime of wasting the talents of the lovely Naomi Watts.
Some might even be distracted from the fact that Eastwood never really manages to capture the mood of some of the most fascinating times in recent history – or tap into the essence of the major players involved.
But I doubt it. The make up is bad, but not that bad.
Well, OK, maybe it is.