Catholic movie reviews - Haywire & Red Tails

By  Catholic News Service
  • January 20, 2012

Looking for a movie for the weekend? This week we've got reviews of two big Hollywood action movies.

 

HaywireFassbender

Haywire

By John P. McCarthy, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - With the fairly suspenseful but frequently brutal thriller "Haywire" (Relativity), filmmaker Steven Soderbergh tries his hand at action-oriented espionage. Stylish and spare, the result plays like the work of a talented yet restless director ticking another genre off his list.

What moviegoers may appreciate most about "Haywire" is that it clocks in at a swift 93 minutes. What they'll likely find most disconcerting is its casual approach to violence, even after allowing for the life-and-death nature of international spying and covert military operations.

In recent years, this terrain has been dominated by the "Bourne" trilogy and slickly outlandish fare such as the Angelina Jolie vehicle "Salt." Soderbergh attempts to lend some authenticity to his variation by casting mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano in the lead role. That choice, together with the knowledge that the film's working title was "Knockout," provides an accurate barometer of what's in store.

Carano plays Mallory Kane, a former Marine engaged in black ops for a private company contracted by the U.S. government. We first meet the lethal brunette on the lam in upstate New York. How she became a fugitive is told in flashback, beginning with a Barcelona job during which she and several colleagues, including gung-ho Aaron (Channing Tatum), free a Chinese dissident being held by unidentified thugs.

Next, Mallory's boss and former boyfriend Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) sends her to Dublin to work alongside British secret agent Paul (Michael Fassbender). It's during this assignment that she's double-crossed and forced to go rogue to find out who has betrayed her and why. American spymaster Coblenz (Michael Douglas) is somehow involved, as is Spanish diplomat Rodrigo, limned by Antonio Banderas.

Soderbergh's lively cinematography -- along with a jaunty musical score, glamorous international locales, and a seasoned supporting cast -- gives the picture ample flair. But since the plot and dialogue exist solely to provide Carano the chance to display her considerable fighting skills, there's not much substance to be found. Attempts to explore character and tease out the human drama in the scenario don't register.

The intense, precisely choreographed hand-to-hand fight sequences, along with several exciting chases, stand out. Kudos to Carano for performing her own acrobatic stunts (without the use of wires or special effects) and to Soderbergh for capturing them with his typical energy and panache. Unfortunately, Mallory shows no mercy as she tracks down her betrayers. Although she's clearly the wronged party, her ruthless response is nonetheless morally culpable.

Close combat is Carano's metier; as for Soderbergh, with "Haywire," he once again demonstrates that, though he's adept at making different kinds of films, he has yet to master any one form. Obviously enthused by the challenges of staging and shooting a certain type of action film, and the opportunity to pay homage to its progenitors, he seems uninterested in its thematic or ethical content.

The door is left open to a sequel but don't expect Soderbergh to be at the helm. No doubt he'll have moved on to something completely different.

The film contains much fierce hand-to-hand violence and gunplay, brief gore, an implied nonmarital encounter, at least one use of profanity and of rough language, some crude terms and an obscene gesture. The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

 

REDtailsMovies

Red Tails

By Kurt Jensen, Catholic News Service

NEW YORK - The last time audiences watched flag-waving hokum on the order of "Red Tails" (Fox), the show may have included a cartoon and a newsreel, and war bonds may have been for sale in the lobby. Patriotic corn, it seems, is not a staple that ages especially well.

During World War II, combat-themed films were relentlessly upbeat because the federal government, as well as the Production Code Administration, decreed such optimism to be in the interest of home-front morale.

But what director Anthony Hemingway and screenwriters John Ridley and Aaron McGruder obviously intended as an enthusiastic fact-based homage to that type of motion picture instead comes off as shallow and cliched storytelling about a famed group of Tuskegee Airmen.

As their film opens in 1944, the 332nd Fighter Group of the Army Air Forces -- made up of African-American pilots based in Italy -- are shown banished to rear-guard missions such as strafing a German supply train and making coastal patrols with second-hand P-40 Warhawks.

These fliers yearn to get into the scrap. But they face racism, not only from the distant Pentagon -- where Col. A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard) fights the good fight on behalf of his subordinates -- but from their nearby white counterparts.

They're finally awarded the use of the P-51 Mustang -- a muscular plane suitable for bomber escorts and nimble enough to outmaneuver the first German jets. This being the time before stealth aircraft, the Mustangs' noses and tails are painted bright red. Those at the controls clearly intend to be seen and remembered.

The history lesson is easy enough to convey if the filmmakers would only focus on the task at hand. Instead, they prefer to have their flyboys cracking wise with such remarks as "How you like that, Mr. Hitler?" and aphorisms like "Experience is a cruel teacher. You get the exam first, then the lesson."

The aviators are shown to be practicing Christians, particularly David "Deke" (short for Deacon) Watkins, played by Marcus T. Paulk. Deke's cockpit carries an icon of a black Jesus, and he leads his comrades in prayer before takeoff.

Tristan Wilds as Ray "Junior" Gannon finds romance with Sofia (Daniela Ruah), an Italian girl, and Cuba Gooding Jr. as Maj. Emmanuel Stance grunts a lot and never takes his pipe out of his mouth. On the up side, despite their predictable outcomes, the extended dogfight sequences are everything you'd expect from the greatest generation.

The film contains extensive aerial combat violence, an instance of implied premarital sex as well as fleeting crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

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