Film Review: Haywire

Given the talented cast and director involved with this project, Haywire is a disappointing film. At best, the film is mildly entertaining, although it never really engages the viewer.

Mallory Kane is a freelance operative, working for a company that hires out her services to government and other powerful figures. After a mission goes wrong, Mallory discovers that she has been betrayed. On the run, Mallory must find out the truth and fight to stay alive…

Haywire is very much a by-the-numbers action thriller, offering little innovation or surprise. The narrative is predictable, with the flashback format doing little to alleviate this. Haywire features the usual themes of double crosses and omnipotent agencies, which is fine but for the lack of development or decent storytelling. Moreover, anyone who has seen the Haywire trailer will have had the movie ruined as it gives everything away.

The only thing that distinguishes Haywire from a plethora of similar action films is its choice of protagonist. It would be refreshing to have a female hero at the centre of Haywire if the depiction of her character was not so lacklustre. Apart from the fact that she is a good-looking female, everything about Mallory suggests stereotypically male traits. She uses force to fight back against her male antagonists, rather than having to use ingenuity. Her seduction, for want of a better word, of one of the male characters is also very masculine. Mallory is the only female in the film except for a few extras, yet she is a man in all but gender.

Characters in Haywire are barely developed. Mallory’s relationship with her father is presumably meant to humanise her, but does little to endear the audience to her character. Similarly, Kenneth and Aaron are too one-dimensional for the audience to care about.

Performances in the film are fine. Gina Carano does a decent job as Mallory, excelling in the fight sequences. Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum and Antonio Banderas are given little to do in their narrow roles. Director Steven Soderbergh appears to think that quirky angles are enough to make a straightforward action thriller.

Haywire is not painful viewing, but neither is it particularly enjoyable. Give it a miss.

Haywire Trailer

Haywire comes with quite a pedigree. The film combines director Steven Soderbergh with a stellar cast that includes Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender and Antonio Banderas. Haywire is an action thriller that focuses on a CIA agent played by Gina Carano. It will be interesting to see whether the MMA fighter has any acting chops when Haywire is released on 20th January 2012.

Film Review: Beginners

When a subtitled dog isn’t even the best thing about a film, you know you are on to a winner. Mike Mills’ Beginners is a well-crafted film that offers great performances.

After his mother dies, graphic designer Oliver is shocked by his father’s announcement that he is gay. As Oliver comes to terms with this, his father is diagnosed with cancer. Oliver reflects upon his father’s outlook on life as he embarks on a new relationship with actress Anna…

The story of Beginners is told through a series of flashbacks. In addition to this, the film breaks with the story with short interludes that amusingly summarise different periods in Oliver’s family’s life. These seem to reinforce the point that throughout different times in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries things are the same but different. They chart the changing attitude to different types of relationships; the images of people and landscapes seem to highlight the subtlety of these shifts.

Mills’ film is an affecting drama. The tone of Beginners is reflective rather than bleak. Given the themes that are encompassed, it would not have been surprising if the film had been overly sombre. Instead, there is a pensive atmosphere. The execution of the film is fantastic, all the elements come together very well. The script is great; the characters are believable and the dialogue thoughtful and convincing.

The themes in Beginners can be identified with almost universally. The film concerns itself with love, relationships and grief; themes that most will be able to relate to. The film is also about same-sex relationships. This issue is dealt with sensitively and positively. The film has a point to make, but it carefully guides rather than patronising.

In spite of the serious themes, Beginners also features one of the most adorable dogs to have ever appeared on screen. Arthur, the endlessly faithful companion, is very much a character in his own right. The dog is subtitled, adding a quirky factor to the film. Although the emphasis remains on the human characters, Arthur is a welcome addition and could have been featured more prominently.

Christopher Plummer is fantastic as Hal. He is utterly convincing in the role, and has great chemistry with all of his co-stars. Ewan McGregor also offers a great performance as Oliver, effectively conveying the character’s sadness. Mélanie Laurent is immensely watchable as love interest Anna.

Beginners is a great drama made all the more unique by some of the more quirky elements. Although it will not entice everyone, many should find resonance in the film.

In Praise (and Derision) of… Cameron Diaz

Watching Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher recently brought back what a likeable actress she is. While she may not possess the acting chops of a veteran such as Meryl Streep, Diaz certainly has a flair for comedy. She has an understated appeal; although comedy is the genre Diaz is most often associated with, she is not particularly seen as one of luminaries of the genre. Below are some of her memorable performances, though perhaps not the most obvious ones…

Bad Teacher

Cameron Diaz is immense fun as foul-mouthed Elizabeth in Bad Teacher. Much of the film’s humour is crass, but she handles this deftly. She never becomes overly masculine, despite the crudeness of her character. Diaz is responsible for many of the film’s laughs, and delivers a great performance overall.

Knight and Day

Although Knight and Day was not an excellent film, it definitely benefited from having Diaz as one of the protagonists. She has great chemistry with Tom Cruise, which makes the film far more enjoyable than it would have been. Her character June is rather ditzy, a trait that Diaz plays exceptionally well.

A Life Less Ordinary

Not one of Cameron Diaz’s most memorable films, 1997’s A Life Less Ordinary again benefited from her onscreen chemistry, this time with Ewan McGregor. An unconventional love story between a kidnapper and his victim that included the meddling of angels, Diaz’s Celine oozes attitude but manages to exude genuine emotion as well.

Gangs of New York

The derision of Cameron Diaz in  can be simply summed up by the following: her accent in Gangs of New York.  Her part-Irish, part-American accent is distractingly bad. So much so, it detracts from an otherwise decent performance. There are other dubious accents in Martin Scorsese’s film, but sadly Diaz’s inflections are in a league of their own.

Film Review: The Ghost

Based on the best-selling novel by Robert Harris, The Ghost exhibits why Roman Polanski is widely considered one of the greatest directors. From the very beginning the film is captivating, drawing in the viewer until the end credits roll.

The Ghost tells the story of a ghost writer who is commissioned to help finish the memoirs of the former British prime minister, following his predecessor’s unexpected death. Things take a turn for the worse when ex-prime minister Lang is accused of war crimes, and the unwitting ghost writer in drawn into a web of intrigue…

Part of the interest in the film is the obvious parallels between Lang and Tony Blair. Anyone with even a passing interest in British politics cannot help but notice the similarities between the two, in both career incidences and mannerisms. The film is sure to resonate with British audiences with its very topical and believable narrative.

Pierce Brosnan is perfectly cast as Lang, depicting both the charisma and smarminess associated with the former PM. Olivia Williams excels as wife Ruth, giving an engaging performance as the formidable yet frustrated partner. As the ghost writer, Ewan McGregor is a credible protagonist who viewers will side with; much what is discovered occurs from his viewpoint.

Polanski’s film is part political satire and part thriller. The beauty of The Ghost is that it is entirely conceivable; it is not by stretch of the imagination that everything that takes place could really occur. Conspiracy theorists will have a field day with what is ultimately revealed.

The narrative builds at an appropriate pace, gripping the viewer with every new discovery. Furthermore, the setting – a small island off the east coast of the United States – is perfect in providing a location which is both isolating and claustrophobic. The muted palette of the island cinematography adds to this atmosphere of seclusion.

Although Polanski is currently in the press more for his legal issues rather than his filmmaking, this should not detract from this cinematic showpiece. The Ghost is an enthralling thriller, and a welcome return to form for its director.

Film Review: I Love You Phillip Morris

The most striking thing about Phillip Morris is, as the opening titles emphasise, that the events in the film really happened. For many of these events are audacious to say the least, and make for entertaining viewing.

Philip Morris tells the story of scam artist Steven Russell and the lengths he goes to in order to be reunited with the man he loves. Some reviews have drawn attention to the fact that it is a homosexual relationship at the heart of the film. However, the fact the film is about a gay couple is incidental; it neither draws nor detracts from what the film is really about.

Carrey is takes a step outside of his comfort zone with this role. Rather than the brash, often one-dimensional roles he is often associated with, it is a risk that has paid off as the actor is engaging as the rather complex Russell. In this way in particular the film is comparable to Catch Me If You Can, as it tells the story of a character taking on a variety of guises to make up for their own lack of identity.

Though predominantly a comedy, there are still moments of genuine emotion. When Russell pulls off his biggest con there is real sadness about the situation, before the scam is revealed. Moreover, McGregor brings an earnest to his role of Phillip Morris, there is a believability about him that suggests he was perfectly cast.

I Love You Phillip Morris is an entertaining and humorous affair, but one laced with poignancy as one remembers that the events illustrated happened to real people.