The Iron Lady Goes Haywire

Excuse me, gentlemen, I make the decisions around here! Now give me my Oscar!
Hey, bub, I might not ever win an Oscar, but I will kick your ass!
Meryl Streep and Gina Carano might have more in common than meets the eye.  One is an acting legend taking on her umpteenth role in Phyllida Lloyd’s Margaret Thatcher biopic, The Iron Lady.  The other is a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) star who many are saying has no business acting as the lead in her first film, Steven Soderbergh’s artsy actioner Haywire.  But both women make a clear statement and create a commanding presence in their respective films with Streep rising above her film’s faults while Carano rises above her own.  Neither of their films could operate or entertain without them.

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


  1. A good to-the-point review. I have this fetish for action films; the Jackie Chan variety and the arty ones. Haywire seems to fit into both these slots. It’s on my list Dave.

    Good one.

    Prakash – Haywire is kinda like an artsy Jackie Chan flick where Chan has been replaced by a smokin’ hot lady – ha ha. –DHS

  2. I love the juxtaposition of “Haywire” against “The Iron Lady.” I wish I had enjoyed the former a bit more. Between Carano’s acting and the off-putting soundtrack, I just couldn’t get into it. I think she’ll has a chance at making a career in movies, but it’ll be more along the lines of Van Damme or Segal.

    But props to Soderbergh for once again refusing to be pigeon-holed and taking on yet another genre!

    Julio – I actually liked the soundtrack and didn’t mind Carano’s lack of acting skills when she looked so damn good and performed the stunts/fighting so well. Soderbergh is a versatile dude for sure. –DHS

  3. Meryl Streep is a frustrating actress, because she engages in so much chicanery by taking on so many vanilla films. I had little interest in seeing her movies until I finally came across Sophie’s Choice the other year and realized that we’ve got a genius hiding in plain sight.

    Movie about political figures are almost always dumb. But I think Virginia Postrel’s reaction was pretty interesting :

    Iron Lady Falls to the Anna Quindlen Doctrine: Virginia Postrel

    I can’t speak for some of Streep’s other choices in roles, but the reason for picking this one is clear: taking the lead role in a historical biopic allows her to fully inhabit/own a character while having complete control over her performance regardless of the film’s other elements. –DHS

  4. I haven’t yet seen HAYWIRE yet David, but I have watched IRON LADY and find myself pretty much in agreement with your analysis and summary judgement. Streep delivers a towering performances in an otherwise ordinary film that does till have its high points. I was frankly surprised she did not win the SAG award tonight, losing to Viola Davis for THE HELP.

    Excellent double review here!

    Sam – it seems it will be a two-horse race for the Oscar between Streep and Davis. –DHS

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