A film review by Craig J. Koban April 30, 2020


2020, R, 116 mins.

Chris Hemsworth as Tyler Rake  /  David Harbour as Gasper  /  Golshifteh Farahani as Nik Khan  /  Rudhraksh Jaiswal as Ovi Mahajan  /  Pankaj Tripathi as Ovi Mahajan Sr.  /  Randeep Hooda as Saju  /  Priyanshu Painyuli as Amir Asif

Directed by Sam Hargrave  /  Written by Joe Russon, based on the graphic novel CIUDAD, also written by Russo


I'll challenge anyone that thinks that Chris Hemsworth is a bona fide and bankable movie star.  

That's not to say that he's a mediocre talent.  Far from it.  However, if one modestly scrutinizes the Australian actor's non-THOR roles and films then it becomes apparent that he really can't draw mass audiences himself, emphasizing a questionable career trajectory.  People love the actor as the God of Thunder (one of the most pitch perfectly cast MCU characters, for sure), but do any filmgoers honestly remember his turns in box office duds like MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL, BLACKHAT, 12 STRONG, IN THE HEART OF THE SEA, THE HUNTSMEN: WINTER'S WAR or RED DAWN?   

Yeah, didn't think so.   

This brings me to the new Netflix action thriller EXTRACTION, the latest starring vehicle for the hulking and usually shirtless actor, and one that I think is a quite good marriage to his unique skill set.  It's no coincidence that the film is written by Joe Russo and is based on a graphic novel also penned by him (he's one half of the Russo brother tandem that made some of the best MCU films in to the last two CAPTAIN AMERICA films and they also helmed the highest grossing film of all time in AVENGERS: ENDGAME).  Russo's past partnership with Hemsworth notwithstanding, EXTRACTION also features the directorial debut of former stuntman Sam Hargrave, who also, yes, was in charge of quarterbacking all of the chaotic mayhem found in many previous MCU films.  His resulting feature film rookie effort suffers from being a tad too long and contains some nagging pacing issues, but when its bravura, blunt force trauma action sequences and stunts frequently kick in - some of which deserve worthy comparisons to the best moments of JOHN WICK - then this film is indeed mercilessly thrilling and impactful.   

It's just that EXTRACTION isn't particularly long on a meaningful and meaty plot, and some details lack subtlety altogether.  Take Hemsworth's character, the super heroic and borderline unkillable mercenary named Tyler Rake (and, uh huh, he actually uses a garden rake to murder a bad guy at one point in the movie...it doesn't get more on the nose than that!).  He specializes in off-the-books black market extractions, but he's introduced during a quiet moment of peaceful solitude with his squadmates on a clifftop overlooking a quarry (in one of the film's many great visual moments, Tyler takes a nonchalant jump off of said cliff and into the water below in a stunningly how-did-they-do-that fluid shot).  Anyhoo', he's recruited by a fellow merc in Nik Khan (Golshifteh Farahani) to rescue Ovi Mahajan Jr. (Rudhraksh Jaiswal ), who happens to be the son of one of India's biggest drug kingpins (Pankaj Tripathi).  The kid is being held ransom by a Bangladesh drug lord (Priyanshu Painyuli), which obviously complicates matters immensely.  



Rake is all stoic business and manages to infiltrate Ovi's captors and secures the frazzled lad, but it soon becomes clear that Ovi's dad has hired Saju (Randeep Hooda ), a former kick ass Special Forces solider, to bring his son back using any means necessary.  Realizing that he's perhaps in over his head and in severe hostile territory, Rake works overtime to get his asset out of the Indian city and to safely.  It's at this point where it bares mentioning how EXTRACTION is trying to mirror the JOHN WICK-ian creative blueprint through and through (granted, if you're going to copy and past another movie, copy and paste from the best).  Obviously, both films are from stuntmen turned first time directors.  Both films involve said stuntmen turned directors working with actors that they previously stunt doubled for.  And both films thankfully aim for a level of cohesion, clarity and editorial cleanliness in their action sequences that nearly all other contemporary thrillers wholeheartedly lack. 

There's just something about veteran stuntmen helming action films lately.  It just...works.  Maybe they just have a better sense of the ebbs and flows of what visually looks the best in delivering these bombastic moments.  With JOHN WICK as an aforementioned and influential model, Hargrave hurdles his very game lead star into the thick of things in a series exceptionally well staged one-on-one fistfights, battle royal street brawls involving multiple adversaries, and bonkers car chases galore.  And also like JOHN WICK, the action here is easy to follow and disseminate what's happening in the frame at all times, which helps with the level of immersion.  There's an early close quartered fight sequence that's pure bone crunching and blood spewing dynamite, showcasing Rake using his mind, body, and all forms of improvised weapons (everything from walls to tin cans to - ahem! - a rake are used) to ruthlessly murder-death-kill his way through a platoon of kidnapper goons.  In terms of punishing oomph factor, EXTRACTION methodically delivers early on and never looks back. 

But Hargrave also wisely understands the necessity to open things up when it comes to action set piece variety, which culminates in the film's midpoint sequence that's as masterfully staged as any that I've seen.  The whole scene - made to look like a 1917-inspired one long cut, but achieved through clear cut digital fakery and hidden edits - shows Rake and Ovi running through a vast apartment building as the former bashes and brutalizes their pursuers, which the spills out into the streets and then morphs into a full on car chase through the unhealthily crowded city streets, which further involves Rake evading his enemies and avoiding causing any friendly causalities.  It's a staggeringly choreographed sequence of all out brutal insanity, done with impeccable levels of filmmaking know-how and craft.  There's even some room for some dark humor here as well, as Rake - during one inopportune moment - finds himself fending off a series of gangster child soldiers in a dark alleyway.  This all builds to a macabre and frankly hysterical moment of Hemsworth's bloodied and bruised solider slapping one of the armed youth gansgters and telling him to "Piss off!" after he pathetically tried to kill him.  Great moment. 

Hargrave doesn't let up in EXTRACTION's go-for-broke and exhilarating finale, during which time bazookas, army helicopters, vast explosions, and an exemplarily slick gun battle on a bridge ensues, all while Rake is exposed to attacks in front of, behind, above, and below him.  All of this is truly sensational, not to mention the considerable mileage that the director gets out of his varied environments in the film, with the city of Dhaka being a vast and intimidating centerpiece.  This unfortunately, though, brings me to many of the problems that I had with EXTRACTION, which stems mostly from a scripting and momentum level.  Russo's narrative is awfully light on some details, in particular when it comes to the main villain himself, who's afforded virtually no depth, outside of emphasizing his deplorable cruelness directed at children (one sickening and unnecessary scene involves one of his henchmen throwing a kid off of a high-rise to his death).  He's not an intriguing protagonist at all, outside of his unsavory barbarism.  Russo's screenplay tries to work overtime - and a bit too late - to flesh out the relationship between Rake and Ovi, but it's not as well developed here as it should have been (we're given snippets and glimpses of Rake's past here and there in an attempt to humanize him, but they're superficial flourishes at best).  Rake is, more or less, one of those obligatory world weary soldiers that numbs his past pains in drugs and booze and tries to find redemption in the saving of an innocent child.  

Three last things that hurt EXTRACTION: Firstly, it's hard to overlook the very noticeable white savior troupes that permeate the screenplay.  EXTRACTION is another in a long list of films featuring Caucasian heroes rescuing people of color while killing a whole lot of other people of color.  Secondly, the film's length is fatigue inducing, which despite being under two hours it sometimes feels twice that long.  Thirdly, and tied the the second point, there's the awkward manner that Hargrave segues in and out of the action and into the film's quieter moments and subplots (one of which includes a pretty superfluous appearance by a character played by David Harbour late in the game that offers some protection for Rake and Ovi, but then plays out predictably with twists that will  fool no one).  Scenes like this really, really slow down EXTRACTION.  Hemsworth is, most certainly, quite good in his finely tailored role, even though his character is pretty bare bones (and compared yet again to the similar role of a haunted killer on a suicidal mission in JOHN WICK, Rake as played by the Aussie never has the same ethereal cool factor of what Keanu Reeves brought to the table).   

I'm starting to sound like I'm not endorsing EXTRACTION at all, but in the end I'm recommending it, but with reservations.  As mentioned in previous reviews, my litmus test for a film's overall worth is whether it deserves a theatrical ticket price purchase.  If EXTRACTION were released in cinemas in  a non-pandemic world then I'd have to say no and would probably give it two and a half stars...but it's a solid rental at best.  Since you can watch it for free, relatively speaking, on Netflix now, I think my three-star review seems fair in hindsight.  EXTRACTION has ten cent scripting, but million dollar action and stunts that should wet the appetites of diehard genre fans.  Plus, Hemsworth is keenly in his element here, bringing sizeable, brooding charisma and a stunning physical presence to a role that's really not much on the written page.  

That's what...movie stars do. 

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