This week I’ve been talking about how Haywire character Mallory Kane has a problem connecting with her audience. We’re impressed by her cage-fighting skills, her determination, and her smarts, but don’t really like her or want to see her in a sequel.
Going back to what Hemley said in my first post, for us to connect with Mallory we need to understand what motivates her.
So how would I revise her character?
I don’t think Mallory needs a huge makeover for her to connect to her viewer. She’s the star of an action film and the focus needs to be on how she’s going to survive.
In Tuesday’s post, I quoted James Gandolfini talking about how Tony Soprano’s on screen therapy sessions allowed the viewer to see Tony’s concerns, his desires, and his disappointments. While I’m not advocating putting Mallory on the therapist’s couch, we need to get inside her head a bit more.
We don’t know why Mallory chose to become a hired gun. We know she was in the military, but we’re not sure if she chose her profession because she loves the adrenaline rush, or has a profound sense of justice, or couldn’t find another job. In my Mallory Makeover, I’d give the viewer a hint of what’s driving her.
And I’d peel away a corner of Mallory’s emotional armor. Early on, when she has post-rescue assignment sex with her colleague, I’d show the moment of attraction: he shoves her out of the line of fire. Their eyes connect. They’re momentarily trapped together, the adrenaline pumping. A shared piece of black humor. She’s still the hero, but I’d give a glimpse of what ignites her.
Mallory could use a dash of humor. She’s got this poor kid trapped in the getaway car with her. Either I’d have her tease him to make him relax or have her make wry observations about her plight. What characters joke about and the manner in which they joke reveal who they are inside.
Early in the film, I might have her grab a present for her dad in the Barcelona airport. Soderbergh shows Mallory opening a gift from her father, a signed copy of his recent book. His inscription shows he cares about her–but if Mallory selected a present for him, it would reveal her feelings for her father, and help the viewer see inside her psyche.
When the deer comes crashing through the car window, I’d have Mallory react. Only a robot killing machine treats an innocent animal as if it’s nothing. Mallory could scream, cry, throw up, thoughtfully put the deer out of its misery. Her response would train a light on her character.
I would definitely keep the magnificent fight scenes, but I’d stop short of having Mallory break a man’s back while he’s down. It’s one thing to fire back at someone firing at you, quite another to kill in cold blood when you’ve already overcome the opponent.
Part of the brilliance of Hunger Games is that Suzanne Collins managed to keep Katniss sympathetic while forcing her to kill. Collins knew the boundaries and she knew she had to balance force with compassion to keep the reader on Katniss’ side.
We don’t have to do a complete rewrite on our difficult characters as long as we give the audience a flicker of insight into who they are and provide a moment in which we see that they are not so very different from ourselves.