TV reviews

Extraction – Review

New to Netflix, Extraction sees Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth), an Australian mercenary, assigned to rescue a young boy, Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), the son of an imprisoned drug lord, Ovi Sr. (Pankaj Tripathi) from his kidnapper, fellow drug lord Amir Asif (Priyanshu Painyuli) who has hidden Ovi in the Bangladeshi city of Dhaka.  Quickly recovering Ovi from his captors, Tyler will need to protect the boy from Amir’s network of henchmen and corrupt officials, while Saju (a former special forces operator working for Amir) is also trying to recover the boy, to avoid both the large ransom fee, and to avoid his boss making good on his threats against Saju’s own son if Ovi is not returned safely.  Against the backdrop of a densely populated, unfamiliar city, full of people in his adversary’s employ, Tyler must get the boy to safety, while never fully sure of in whom he can put his trust.

Extraction marks the film debut of Sam Hargrave, a stunt coordinator and performer known for his work with the Russo Brothers, who, as with the recent starring vehicle for Chris Hemsworth’s fellow Avenger Chadwick Boseman, 21 Bridges, are listed as producers here.  Both brothers had a role in the story, with Joe credited for the screenplay.  Hargrave was also a performer on 2017’s Atomic Blonde.  It is no surprise to find some influence from that film showing up in that work.

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To be more specific, the film is very strong in the action department, with Hemsworth proving very adept at close-in hand-to-hand fighting, the like of which is not a general requirement for his role as Thor, despite the action-heavy nature of those films (at least not in the same style as presented here).  The influence is there also in the film’s attempt to create a lengthy faux one-take scene along the lines of the Charlize Theron actioner.  With a budget of $65 million (around double that of 21 Bridges) Extraction proves a perfect showcase for a first-time director and an almost A-lister (Hemsworth is a star, but we’ve yet to evidence he can open a film on his name alone).  For all the barbs thrown at Netflix, films in this budget range have become increasingly rare, as the industry coalesces around the twin poles of the micro-budget and the blockbuster.  The very existence of such a film, whatever the end result, is good news for an industry that has long eschewed the sort of mid-budget fare that allows for a greater diversity of product.  As a first-timer, Hargrave is not under the same sorts of pressure as he would be were a strong first weekend gross expected.

That is just as well, as Extraction appears to be showing the limitations of their way of doing business (only ‘appears’ as the exact process for commissioning this product is unclear).  Netflix appears to use data heavily to inform the product it creates.  Rather than simply hearing pitches, they have been known to develop properties around the data that tells them what different demographics are watching on their platform.  While all distributors use market data as a guide, this seems to be a step beyond the industry standard practice, as it removes much of the human instinct.  In the case of this film, it shows, as the story is pretty rote, as is the casting, as are the emotional beats.

Copyright: Netflix

The mercenary with a heart, played by an (affordable) Avenger, featuring a star of Stranger Things  – a huge Netflix hit – with emotional stakes around lost children: this is all stuff we’ve seen many, many times.  The film wears so many influences: Atomic Blonde in the one-take sequence we’ll get to (plus the fact that one-take is “so hot right now”); 21 Bridges in navigating a locked-down city; Black Hawk Down in the alien (to our lead), hostile environment; the Bourne Trilogy (there were only three films, right?) in the tone and style of action; John Wick in the violence level, and in the leading man being heavily tattooed (and getting badly hurt, for that matter); and any number of action films where the lead character has lost a child, and/or deals with one being at risk.  There is literally nothing new here.

Little of this is the fault of the director; as any first-time director would jump at the chance to direct a comfortably budgeted film, starring Hemsworth, and actively worked on by the Russos.  This is not a project you would expect anybody in Hargrave’s position to decline.  With the material he has been given he has fashioned a good looking product (although with a slight overuse of filters from cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, an experienced DP, best known for his work with Bryan Singer), with some real flair that builds on his stunt experience, in much the same way as Chad Stahelski utilised similar experience on the John Wick films.  This is no John Wick, however.  As inventively shot as the action is, it does have its limitations.

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The one-take sequences runs for about 11 minutes, from c. 35 minutes into the film, and sees the camera move in and out of cars, before following the Rake on foot, then into a truck.  This encompasses falls and shifts of perspective that literally could not have been achieved in one-take by any cameraman.  Therefore, there are hidden cuts.  Although the technique worked well in Atomic Blonde, and was positively transcendent in 1917, here it is very slightly over-engineered.  There are just too many faux camera shifts for the viewer to disengage from wondering how it is being done, and this kills all tension in the scene.  It worked in Atomic Blonde, as there were fewer “how did they do that” moments, and it works in 1917, as that is not primarily about action; the tension is born instead of the immersion the technique affords the viewer – we feel we are in there with the two men.  Distraction in action is not a positive thing: think of the car chase in Spectre, where Bond is having a chat on the phone with Moneypenny – this detracts from the action, as the technical work here also vies for viewer attention.

That said, to employ this technique for a reasonable portion of a film that would be, otherwise, unremarkable is a wise calling card for Hargrave.  It demonstrates a good degree of planning and commitment.  This is the main takeaway from Extraction: a promising (and – at this stage – no more than promising) directorial talent is born.  Decent visuals and performances allow for the best to be made of a story that is representative of every committee-led approach to creativity we’ve ever seen.  Hemsworth loses out most from the lack of a big screen outing, as his very real cinematic presence is somewhat diminished, and only exacerbated by his character having the most rote, unconvincing development.  That said, there is nothing here that doesn’t work, and Extraction is a decent watch: just one that it is unlikely would have drawn many to cinemas.

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