Most of the hubbub around The Iron Lady seems to indicate it isn’t terribly accurate in its history. I don’t known enough about British politics from the 1980′s to fairly judge it on those grounds, but I’ll take the detractors’ word for it. For me, it’s not necessarily a deal breaker, and Streep’s performance is so single-mindedly focused and all-powerful that I didn’t really care about all of that. Clearly wanting to present a sympathetic portrait of the still controversial Thatcher, the film frames the story from the point of view of Thatcher as an old woman with increasing dementia who wanders about her house reminiscing in scatter-shot episodes about her storied past. It allows for some stylistic choices on the part of director Lloyd, most of which work, some of which don’t. It makes for one long, compelling montage of a movie anchored by Streep’s complete and passionate transformation into Thatcher. It’s nervy, brilliant stuff – the type of thing only an actress of Streep’s stature could pull off – and it makes the film incredibly watchable despite the sometimes shaky ground it rests upon.
Meanwhile, most of the hubbub around Haywire seems to indicate Carano is a stiff, non-emotive actress. Hell, I don’t think Soderbergh thought he had found the next Meryl Streep when he cast her. What he had found was a real-life MMA star with a physical presence that translates well to screen. Apparently she does all of her own stunts in Haywire as she plays a cold-as-ice globe-trotting rogue agent trying to get to the bottom of a twisty plot involving her attempted assassination, and her combat skills are a real treat to watch. You can’t tell me there isn’t a niche audience longing to watch beautiful women kick the bejesus out of a bunch of guys.
Soderbergh seems to have made Haywire on a lark. I can picture him sitting around a hotel room laid over in Barcelona between film projects and becoming obsessed with watching MMA on his iPad. He decides to go along with the new wave of arthouse action films (see Hanna or Drive) and dreams up a project for Gina Carano where he can employ a string of famous actors (among them Antonio Banderas, the ubiquitous Michael Fassbender and Ewan McGregor) whom she can then beat the crap out of on-screen. While the plot is thoroughly convoluted, the script is also paper-thin. She’s been set-up and now she’s going…dun dun dun…rogue! While it may lack the creative back story of Hanna and the heart of Drive, it does deliver the goods as a mindless action film smartly made. The fight scenes are taught and realistic, the settings gorgeous, and the lighting moody – check out all the golden sunset hues and twilight blues. Aesthetically the film is stupendously constructed, and Carano dances like a flaming powder-keg across the perfectly framed landscapes propelled by a hipster soundtrack that’s part Pink Panther and part James Bond.
Watching her jump across rooftops in Dublin ala the Parisian cat burglars from the classic French serial Les Vampires, I thought this could’ve been a silent film, but then we wouldn’t have been able to hear the hilarious final line delivered with perfect aplomb by an over-satiated and about-to-meet-his-comeuppance Banderas before the screen goes to black and he enters what must be a world of hurt delivered by Carano. Shit, Banderas says upon seeing Carano slink down from the rooftop into his line of view. It’s a wink from Soderberg more than anything, because his film isn’t shit. It’s fun as hell, and almost instantly forgettable. It’s as silly of a trifle as The Artist, albeit catering to a much different crowd.
At an earlier part in the film McGregor warns Fassbender not to think of Carano’s Mallory Kane as a woman. It would be a miscalculation when he tried to take her down. Similarly, advisors suggest to Streep’s Thatcher that she adopt a deeper more commanding voice, lose the hat and the handbag, if she wanted to rule over the men of her Conservative party. Carano’s Mallory proves women can be just as athletic and physically dangerous as men. Her body is her deadly weapon and she’ll kick your ass, but she can still slip into a sexy dress or draw a man into bed. Meanwhile, Streep’s Thatcher proves that she can continue to project her womanliness while still commanding respect from the men around her.
They both make for interesting film fodder and powerful role models for young women. With her voluptuous but fit figure, Carano is the perfect antidote to rail-thin supermodels and she could become a champion of healthy body image for young girls. And she also teaches that sometimes it’s okay for a lady to kick a man’s ass. Meanwhile Thatcher reminds us that a woman’s will to lead a nation in a man’s world is an inspiring thing…even if she had to handbag-whip the men into submission sometimes. But Streep knows best of all that those handbags can make excellent carrying cases for little gold statues come Awards season.
Written by David H. Schleicher