Haywire (15/R, 92 mins)
Director: Steven Soderbergh
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
In a diner in New York state, two people, a man and a woman, chat in a booth. Suddenly it explodes into violence, as the pair grapple for life and death before the woman escapes the restaurant and gets away in a jacked car.
A series of flashbacks fill us in on the covert missions in Barcelona and Dublin that led to the current situation. The woman is Mallory Kane (Gina Carano), a black ops agent, and the man is Aaron (Channing Tatum), who was part of her Barcelona team.
Just know it involves the usual betrayal and double cross antics, which leaves Mallory on the run and on a mission to bring down those who set her up.
There are two things that raise Haywire a level above your usual action guff. The first is Carano, a former mixed martial arts fighter. Okay, she’s far from the greatest actress in the world, but her physical performance is hugely impressive. Despite the other big names, she’s unquestionably the star, and watching her lay savage beatings on Tatum, McGregor, Michael Fassbender and countless nameless goons is supremely satisfying.
Secondly, the direction from Soderbergh is just so sharp, so smart, so unlike anything you’re likely to see in a standard action film, that every scene becomes a joy. He brings the cool swagger of Ocean’s Eleven, coupled with his indie aesthetic to bone crunching fights that are brutal and unglamorous yet executed with endlessly dynamic choreography.
It’s not a million miles away from something Tarantino might rattle out - a marquee cast all taking on smaller roles, probably just for the chance to work with the director, fitting effortlessly into action that’s done in sufficiently different ways that you look on the whole genre afresh.