Whose ready for some action, action, action!? Such was my thought watching the trailer for Extraction (Extraction, Extraction!), which seemed at pains to make clear what a totally bad-ass experience it would be, for viewer and main character alike. Beggars can’t be choosers: at the present time there is a paucity of new films to watch and review. But I would be lying if I were to say that Extraction would have been super-high on my list of “streaming films to-watch” under normal circumstances.
But there are very much not normal circumstances, are they? Things are frequently quite grim nowadays, and sometimes a film where a special forces operative shoots up the place in pursuit of fulfilling his mission really is just the ticket. And I suppose I should give Extraction its due as it had a few things in its favour, at least in terms of piquing interest: a directorial debut from a guy best known as the stunt coordinator on the Captain America movies; connected, a story at least partly from the Russo Brothers, based on reportedly super-violent source material; and Chris Hemsworth in the lead, an actor who has always been more than good enough to break away from the hammer and cape, but who arguably has yet to really make firm that transition. Was Extraction a way for that to happen, or is Hemsworth already lodged firmly in the realm of “action hero in films few people see”?
Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), the adolescent son of India’s biggest drug kingpin, finds himself a pawn in an international gang war when he is kidnapped by men under Bangladesh’s biggest drug kingpin and held for ransom. Black market mercenary Tyler (Hemsworth), still mourning his recently deceased son, is brought in to effect a rescue of Ovi for a sizable reward, but the mission to extract the boy from the slums of Dhaka rapidly becomes fraught with problems: crooked cops, desperate youngsters, betrayal and plenty of bloodshed.
Extraction is, well, Extraction. You have seen this film before, probably a few times. Our hulked-up, mentally damaged hero with nothing left to lose is going to accept one last job, take on the bad guys, demonstrate his heart-of-gold by not treating the target like a pile of money in human form, and maybe die trying. His foes will be mostly faceless, characterless mooks, generally around long enough to look threatening and scary, before they tend to explode in a shower of blood. It’s edgy to a fault, having only a macabre sense of humour in very small doses. Extraction is not here to re-invent the wheel, it is here to give the wheel a good polish and set it spinning without a squeak.
It’s easy to see where Extraction is getting its ideas from. Its father is undoubtedly John Wick, with granddad Jason Bourne peeking over his shoulder: that feel is all over this film in terms of its action scenes and the copious amount of gun-originated violence, and in the way that the protagonist is presented to the audience. He is a regretful killer, with some serious trauma in the not-too distant past. But there are other things that stand-out too. The kind of action in relation to the environment naturally invokes memories of Black Hawk Down and Dredd; certain characters and events make one think of Behind Enemy Lines as well, and the Tyler/Ovi relationship crosses media lines to encompass elements of The Last Of Us. To be clear I am not accusing anyone of lifting or ripping off, such things are pointless accusations in a sub-genre as saturated as this. But where John Wick was able to seem amazing fresh and new, Extraction feels more like a re-tread, a polished and buffed re-tread, but a re-tread nonetheless.
It’s on Chris Hemsworth’s not inconsiderable shoulders to try and make all of this work, as the brilliantly named “Tyler Rake” (and yes, he does kill a guy with a rake in one scene). He’s a better actor than the material given to him here, the vast majority of which is more concerned with him hefting a gun or a knife than actually emoting. There isn’t much of an arc to follow, with Tyler mourning the recent death of his son with a nice combination of alcohol, pills and suicidal abandon, and only getting to regurgitate the facts of this existence to Ovi in one scene. The film is certainly long enough that it could have dedicated a bit more time to getting the audience to actually like Tyler, but that simply wasn’t the primary focus of Extraction. Many of the characters around him are mere window dressing when it comes right down to it, like Golshiefteh Farahani as Tyler’s handler, the only woman of note in the production (at least there is no egregious sex in Extraction, about the only thing missing from the traditional formula: that too might be a takeaway from John Wick).
When it comes to that primary focus you also have to consider the racial angle as well, with Extraction doing little to tackle the optics of a burly white man blundering into the developing world and killing as many Bangladeshi’s as dare to step into his sights. All excepting the one he has to protect. What a burden this is for the white guy, huh? In fairness director Sam Hargreave tries to give a bit of character to Ovi, a confused, terrified kid who feels himself viewed as more of an object by his father than a person, and to Saju (Randeep Hooda), the right-hand-man tasked with getting Ovi back without the pesky need to actually pay the mercenary group. But that’s about it really. The only other character of serious consequence is a port-in-a-storm played by David Harbour in a somewhat surprising extended cameo. The amount of traumatised white guys shooting up the place grows and grows.
I don’t want to give the impression that Extraction is a completely throwaway experience though. There are a few – emphasis on “a few” – neat touches from a story-telling perspective. Tyler and Ovi are, at one stage, opposed by a gang of children out to prove themselves to the criminal gangboss, coming from a situation of abject poverty on the streets of Dhaka (Tyler fittingly describes them as “the Goonies from hell”). One, in particular, wants to start rising through the ranks enough to lose some body-parts, and proves an interesting “named” foe. The film pulls no punches, demonstrating very definitively what kind of an experience it is going to be in the first twenty minutes, wherein two children are murdered on-screen (the NFB Parents Guide warns you that one is shot in the head, another is thrown off a building). And the Saju character briefly adds a layer of tension to the narrative, with the knowledge that his own family will be killed if he fails in his mission. A better script and a less flippant approach may have been able to tie all of these elements together a bit better.
Hargreave’s film is a simple enough looking thing. The source material’s Paraguayan backdrop has been exchanged for a Bangladeshi one, and those from Dhaka’s tourism industry would be well-advised to look away. The capital is presented as a filthy, crowded crime-ridden slum of a city that no-one would ever really like to be in, consistently presented in a sandy orange hue, that imbues things with an almost post-apocalyptic feel. This can get a bit tired as the film’s running length – nearly two hours, and a good twenty minutes too long – stretches out.
It is in the action stakes that we see the best of what Extraction has to offer. At first glance it may seem to be a fairly rudimentary bit of action-orientated militaria, with a cinematography focus that takes a lot from that John Wick school – lots of in-your-face camerawork, lots of point-blank gun shots, lots of extremely brutal, extended, hand-to-hand. It’s, even this short a time after the John Wick franchise burst into life, basic enough for modern standards, and in watching it you remember that the Keanu Reeves assassination behemoth was also the result of a stunt coordinator turned director in Chad Stahelski. The reliance on actual bodies and practical effects is to be appreciated.
But action is Hargreave’s trade, and there are moments when he really kicks things into a high gear. Chief among them is a roughly ten minute sequence just past the half-hour mark, a faux one-shotter that takes in a car chase, a slumhouse shoot-out, a brutal one-on-one fight in the streets of Dhaka (complete with falling a few stories), and another car chase. The cut points are obvious enough – sometimes the camera whips around with a weird sense of being too fast, then too slow – but the general effect is surprisingly seamless, as we zoom from car to car, perspective to perspective, death to death. It is apropos to describe the entire effect as something akin to a video game, especially the likes of Uncharted (coincidentally, Henry Jackman, of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and many other things, does the score), but while some may use that kind of descriptor as an insult, I mean the opposite. That ten minute sequence is Extraction’s best work, because it puts you more directly into the movie, making you feel like you are right alongside Hemsworth and others for a few critical and tense moments. 1917 did it better of course, finding a way to utilise the technique for quieter moments as well as loud ones, but Extraction’s premier sequence is still enjoyable.
Extraction is, ultimately, forgettable, which is about the worst criticism that a film such as it is can receive. That ten-minute sequence is really the only truly notable thing about it, which puts it up there with Hardcore Henry in terms of it overall notoriety. In the end Hemsworth doesn’t really bring the goods, the script is poor, the supporting cast are just cardboard cut-outs and too much of its other action is overly-derivative of what has come before. The film ends on a bizarre note, undercutting the central point of its main character and finale, leaving the door open for a sequel that is both unnecessary and, I would assume, unlooked for. That’s just a microchasm of the film’s problems in general. Not recommended.
(All images are copyright of Netflix).