REVIEW: Extraction (2020)
Intent on using their Marvel connections for the greater good, brothers Anthony and Joe Russo are using their post-Endgame gravitas to satisfy our mid-budget action desires. What started with the middling Chadwick Boseman-led 21 Bridges has moved onto the Chris Hemsworth led Netflix original Extraction, an action-war thriller that owes more than a small debt to films like The Raid and John Wick. If that sounds like your cup of tea, you’re in for a treat.
Reluctantly thrown into the middle of a drug war between rival drug lords in India and Bangladesh, mercenary Tyler Rake (yes, that’s a real name) must escort the kidnapped son of a drug lord to safety. The premise, while thin and preposterously simple, is merely a vessel to entertain and boy does it.
It seemed that Extraction was made as an opportunity for director, Sam Hargrave, to flex his stuntman muscles, as I wouldn’t be surprised if it was revealed to us that the film started as numerous out-of-context action set-piece ideas, and writer Joe Russo wove them together ham-fistedly. As such, while the story may be lacking in substance, it makes up for it with the sheer enthusiasm and visceral energy packed into its many impressive action scenes.
Whether it’s gun-fu, hand-to-hand combat, or just a good old fashioned shoot-out, Hargrave and his hefty team of stunt coordinators (IMDb lists 6 people as either stunt coordinators or assistant stunt coordinators) go out of their way to create some of the most impressive action scenes seen in a Hollywood produced actioner. The John Wick comparisons are not unfounded as Extraction commits to the extended take style of film-making that serves the trilogy so well, allowing each hit, each bone-break, and each blood-spatter achieve maximum impact.
In an early fight scene where Rake (Chris Hemsworth) finally meets his asset, Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), the camera spins around the action fluidly, grounding us into the scene and establishing the geography of the apartment vividly. This is a terrifically shot sequence that clues us into what we can expect from Tyler Rake. He takes no prisoners, will shatter your bones should he need to, and will use the environment to his brutal benefit. This is the scene that, already somewhat famously, culminates in our protagonist using his surname in deadly fashion, but somehow, this was merely a taster of what was to come.
Not long after this scene, we reach the film’s zenith, the deservedly attention-grabbing 11-minute one-take. These one-takes have become popular in recent years, though they’re not entirely revolutionary. One could argue they shot to recent stardom in 2014 with True Detective’s “Who Goes There?” episode, an episode which ends with a 6-and-a-half-minute unbroken mad dash through a cul-de-sac mid-shoot out. Since then, several films have deployed the strategy for varying lengths of time – spy thriller Atomic Blonde had a terrific 7-minute scene, while the Oscar-winning Birdman used the technique for its entire 119-minute runtime. Extraction is next in line to give us an extended, unbroken action scene, and while it may be fresh in the memory, it’s going to take some doing to defeat it.
This sequence is utterly spectacular. It manages to combine multiple different action scene tropes – car chases, shoot-outs, knife fights, explosions – into one lengthy sequence; not a second of it is wasted. I knew we were in for something special when the scene started outside, trailing Rake and Ovi in a car, only for the camera to move inside the car, before being shot out of the car later on after a collision, and the scene doesn’t even end there. It’s truly a marvel in film-making and choreography that will certainly be a new feature in the undying discussion of when stunt work will be recognised at major award ceremonies. Truly, this scene is worth the price of your Netflix subscription alone. It’s everything I love about high quality action film-making. Say what you will about the film, but the action on show, particularly in this one-take, is some of the finest we’ve seen since Gareth Evans set a new standard with his Raid franchise.
While the action takes a deserved starring role, the performances from its main players serve the story well. Chris Hemsworth is on reliably fine form as he’s able to use his natural Aussie accent for the first time in eons; Hemsworth gives Tyler a much-needed humanity amongst the bravado of breaking limbs with other limbs. Russo’s script attempts to provide a backstory with deliberately blurry flashbacks and daydreams of Tyler’s life-left-behind, but these largely fall flat and feel unnecessary. Its best scene from a performance standpoint is a rare moment where there’s no action at all, and a wounded Tyler is finally allowed to just talk to his new friend, Ovi.
Ovi, meanwhile, is a likable character who bounces off Tyler well, though he isn’t given much more to do than look frightened and run from cover to cover. The young actor, making his Hollywood debut after a handful of Bollywood appearances, clearly has talent and I enjoyed the back and forth he had with his minder. The film’s closing sequences on the bridge do well to showcase how far these two characters have come over their short time together. These moments serve as a surprising emotional pay off for the characters, something I felt Jaiswal sold well.
Where the film stumbles is largely in its script. Adapted from a graphic novel, Ciudad, Joe Russo appears to have stripped the entire thing down to a Call of Duty escort mission. As I mentioned earlier, it does appear to have been crafted as an excuse for action scenes with the actual story serving as more of a nuisance than anything. It’s clear at points that there is some effective background work in play as one of the film’s better developed side-characters – a Bangladeshi teenager, Fahrad – appears regularly and becomes the film’s closest thing to a B-plot. Towards the end, his final reappearance was a rare moment of surprise from a storytelling perspective, something the rest of the film so dearly lacked. The central idea is fine, it’s an easy story to get invested in as it’s something of a race-against-time setup, but more subtext wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Elsewhere, the film’s lack of originality holds it back from becoming a truly great action film. I didn’t expect the film to reinvent the wheel, but it appeared hellbent on ticking every cliché possible. Tragic backstory for its main character? Check. Unlikely friendship? Check. Celebrity cameo? Check. In its final moments, as our heroes make their last stand, you would be forgiven for thinking they had lifted the song Time by Hans Zimmer from Inception, as its lack of originality even stretches to its soundtrack.
Mercifully, this lack of originality didn’t hinder my overall enjoyment. It’s nothing we hadn’t seen before, but when it comes to its action and its stunt work, it’s something we haven’t seen done this well for quite some time. Chris Hemsworth is a very good leading man, I enjoyed the relationship with his extractee, and while its story left a lot to be desired, it honestly left me satisfied and wanting more. Should Extraction 2 ever see the light of day, you can count me in. I’m firmly on Team Rake.
Directed by: Sam Hargrave
Written by: Joe Russo
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Golshifteh Farahani, Golshifteh Farahani