Saturday, January 21, 2012

Haywire [2011]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L) Roger Ebert (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3  Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

It is mid-January and generally speaking two kinds of movies are generally playing or released into grudgingly second-tier markets like Chicago at this time: (1) movies that were released by film makers before the end of the calendar year in the premier/prestige markets of New York and Los Angeles and/or some "upper tier" European capital like London, Paris (and progressively going down the list ...) Berlin or Rome because the film makers believed they had a product that could do well on the awards circuit -- Academy Awards, British Academy Awards, The Golden Globes, The Directors' Guild Award, The Screen Actors Guild Awards, etc, etc, and (2) basically filler, that is, movies that aren't going to win or be nominated for awards but also are not expected to be "box office smashes" that tend to be conserved until the summer.

I mention this because Haywire (directed by Steven Soderbergh, written by Lem Dobbs) is both a relatively good "action" movie but one that has only an outside chance of getting a nomination or two (cinematography, editing?) and one of two action movies released this week starring women as the action heroes (the other being Underworld: Awakening).

In the story, filmed in a definitely stylized way, Mallory (played by, I'm told, mixed-martial arts, MMA star Gina Carano) ia an agent working for an elite "private security firm" along the lines of the Bush/Cheney era Blackwater Services.  (Yes, it's a murky business and Blackwater itself has undergone several name changes during the past several years, currently calling itself Academi).  Mallory's firm gets contracted by Coblenz (played by Michael Douglas) apparently a high level US intelligence officer to do "a job" in Barcelona.  Nominally, the job is to find apparently a Chinese dissident of some sort hiding there.  It becomes clear, however, that everybody is playing everybody.  Coblenz is playing the private firm, represented in negotiations with him by "Kenneth" (played by Ewan McGregor).  Coblenz' Spanish contact Rodrigo (played by Antonio Banderas) is playing him and the firm.  And ultimately, Mallory's being played by everybody.  Who can she trust?

That's of course the key question being asked in this movie and what makes the movie "relatable" to the general public: We may not be "special agents," but in our current, increasingly privatized economy with specific "jobs" being "compartmentalized" and then "outsourced" from one firm to another, to a third, and back again, it's often hard to make sense of who's in charge of what and to what end.  So Mallory represents the "everyday Joe" (not unlike the Steven Segal character in the action classic Under Siege [1992]) though, interestingly enough "Joe" is now cast as "Jane."

Now much has been and will be written about the psychological significance of casting the lead character as a woman and whether or not it panders to a "fanboy" (a male dominated video-gaming) audience.  Indeed, Roger Ebert begins his review bringing up this question, though he evokes Sigmund Freud.  I would invoke Carl Jung's concept of the anima/animus instead.

According to Carl Jung's theory on the matter within the psyche every male or female there is a weaker opposite gender persona that needs to be recognized and appeased and indeed helps us to relate better to members of the opposite sex in the external world as well.

As I wrote in a comment relating to my review of Sucker Punch [2011] (also released around this time of year, though last year), that I don't see it necessarily negative for younger, mostly male, video-game enthusiasts to "let their animas out to play" and watch, smiling ear-to-ear a woman-action hero beat-the-daylights out of male jerks who generally oppress them as well.  And I do believe that these films _can_ be positive for young women as well (Haywire actually much more than Sucker Punch, where I do think there were legitimate issues about the setting and the young women's wardrobe) inviting them to "reach out" to their more masculine side and embrace the 'action hero' archetype.

Indeed, women (young or otherwise) who do find it within themselves to "enter into the cave" of men's video-gaming often find the experience surprisingly fulfilling as well and not simply in terms of the games themselves (which I certainly would not want to defend each individually here) but mainly in terms of the young men that they would have perhaps previously dismissed that they would meet.

Young men are being told all the time to "reach out to their more feminine side" in order to be able to relate better with young women.  A movie like this can be an invitation to young women to "reach out to their more masculine side" to do the same.

Parents should note that there is a good deal of stylized violence in this movie.  As such it is not really for kids.  However, with parental approval it may not be bad even for teens.  Again, this is not a spectacular movie but it is actually quite (and surprisingly) good.

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