Haywire and The Grey


Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is a highly trained operative working for a security company.  Her company, run by her former lover Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), does various jobs for the CIA.  It’s during one of these jobs in Dublin, Ireland, Mallory is attacked by Paul (Michael Fassbender), the agent with whom she’s paired.  Their fight is brutal with Mallory winning using all her skill in hand-to-hand combat.  Using Paul’s phone, Mallory discovers Kenneth gave Paul the order to kill her.  On the run, Mallory can trust no one.  She calls Kenneth’s CIA contact, Coblenz (Michael Douglas), and learns Kenneth is involved in something that goes way beyond his CIA jobs and involves a couple of shadowy figures named Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas) and Studer (Mathieu Kassovitz).  On the run, marked as a double agent and hunted by some of the world’s best killers, Mallory must be creative in figuring out why Kenneth wants her dead and what she can do to stop it.
“Haywire” is really two movies.  The first is a rip-roaring action picture that soars when its star is throwing punches, kicks and elbows at her attackers.  The second is a convoluted mess of a spy thriller that tries to be too smart for its own good.  When Carano is fighting, the movie is a thrill ride.  When the characters are talking, it slows down to something more like a Merry-Go-Round.  While many action pictures could use more intelligent scripts, this one needs a script that makes a little sense.
While she’s not a great actress, Gina Carano does a decent job in the lead role.  She’s not asked to cover much emotional ground as her character’s mood usually only goes from mildly amused to slightly annoyed.  She does project a quiet, smoldering rage at times, but it is usually too quiet.  The rest of the cast, all male, does the heavy lifting from an acting stand point.  None of these characters is asked to do much either.  Probably the toughest part of this job was getting the fight choreography worked out and avoiding getting punched for real by the former champion of female mixed martial arts.
Those fight scenes are where the film really comes to life.  Shot with enough distance to give the audience a good look at both participants, the combat is brutal yet technical.  It moves with a grace that is rarely seen in this kind of action.  Without the extreme close-ups and frenetic editing that usually makes fight scenes confusing and nearly unwatchable, the audience can enjoy the brutal ballet of Carano, her co-stars and their stunt doubles.  The filmmakers are smart to put Carano’s character in some perceived danger during these scenes.  While you know she’s going to win every fight, there are times when she’s getting the snot beat out of her.  That at least raises the level of tension before she turns the tables on her attacker.
It’s a shame the kind of attention to detail and execution for the fights wasn’t also applied to a story that is nearly incomprehensible.  Even when explained, the reasons for what happened in the film don’t make much sense.  It seems like a lot of trouble was gone to for causes that seem rather petty and unworthy of such a vast and deadly conspiracy.
“Haywire” is rated R for some violence.  There are numerous fights, shootings and stabbings.  While there is some blood, there is no gore.  Foul language is scattered.
Carano could be a successful action star in a field dominated by men.  While she’s a rather wooden actress, most audiences would rather see her kick butt than recite dialog.  While her acting can improve, her fighting abilities are just about perfect.  I wouldn’t want to get her mad at me.
“Haywire” gets three guitars (no disrespect intended, Ms. Carano) out of five.
The Grey
John Ottway (Liam Neeson) works in Alaska as protection for oil rig workers.  He keeps watch whenever workers are outside for large predatory animals, specifically wolves.  Ottway and several crewmen are on a flight heading from the oil fields to Anchorage when rough weather causes their plane to go down deep in the wilderness.  Ottway and six others, Diaz (Frank Grillo), Talget (Dermot Mulroney), Hendrick (Dallas Roberts), Flannery (Joe Anderson), Burke (Nonso Anozie) and Lewenden (James Badge Dale), survive the crash but face the likelihood of either freezing or starving to death.  There’s also the added threat of an aggressive pack of grey wolves.  Ottway, who has studied the animals because of his job, believes the plane crashed within the boundaries of the wolves’ territory and they are trying to kill the perceived threat.  Ottway tries to lead the men to the safer region of the nearby forest, but the wolves are quickly and easily picking off the survivors one by one.  He’s also facing a challenge by Diaz who questions each of his decisions.
“The Grey” is also two pictures in one.  First, it’s a story of survival against overwhelming odds.  It’s also a character study as we learn a great deal about most of the survivors as they fight against the elements and the wolves.  We learn the most about Liam Neeson’s character.  He’s a sad and broken man whose wife left him sometime in the recent past.  He’s still deeply in love with her and writes her a heartfelt letter on his last night at the work site.  When he finishes the letter, he goes to the camp bar to have a couple of shots then goes outside with the intention of killing himself.  The sound of a wolf howl stops him from pulling the trigger of the rifle Ottway has in his mouth.  Ottway’s wife is seen at various times throughout the film in dreams and flashbacks.  More than once she tells him to not be afraid.  This phrase has more meaning than we can know.  There’s also thoughts of his father who was both a warm and loving man and a fearsome and violent drunk.  His father’s love of poetry has the longest lasting effect on Ottway, including a poem his father wrote himself that serves as a source of strength during this ordeal.  The struggle to be rescued seems to give Ottway more of a reason to live than he’s had in some time.  It gives him a focus and clarity that’s been lost in the fog of his grief and loneliness.  
The desire to live beyond the next few hours also seems to bring the lives of the other survivors more meaning.  We learn a great deal about those who make it from the crash site to the woods.  These men are fallible and some even unlikeable; but all find a level of redemption as the story goes forward.
While some of the characters behave in a clichéd way and the story follows a largely predictable arc, “The Grey” is a surprisingly effective and emotional thriller that works as both an action picture as well as a serious character study.
“The Grey” is rated R for violence/disturbing content including bloody images, and for pervasive language.  The aftermath of several wolf attacks are shown.  One includes what appear to be intestines on the body.  One of the survivors who died soon after the air crash is shown with blood spurting from an abdominal wound.  A wolf is killed and cooked and his head is cut off with accompanying sound effects.  Foul language is common.
Allow me to encourage you to stick around until the end of the closing credits.  I usually do but this time I figured there was no reason to.  I was wrong.  Apparently there’s an extra scene after the credits that gives the film a slightly different ending.  While I know what that extra scene contains I wish I had seen it when I saw the movie.  It would have made my experience even that much more positive.  As it is, it was still very good.
“The Grey” gets five guitars.
Three new films are up for your vote in the movie poll.  Which film should I see and review next.
Albert Nobbs—In 19th-century Ireland, painfully shy butler Albert Nobbs hides an incredible secret: He is really a she.
Big Miracle—Based on the true story of a news reporter, a Greenpeace volunteer and rival world superpowers working to save gray whales trapped by rapidly forming ice in the Arctic Circle.
Chronicle—Three high school students make an incredible discovery, leading to their developing uncanny powers beyond their understanding.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film currently in theatres.
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
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