Netflix’s latest action ‘blockbuster’ is a story of one man’s violent journey to protect a young boy from a gang of kidnappers. But this is no Taken. Slick and intense, Extraction is bone-crunching fun.
Ovi Mahajan Snr, a Mumbai drug lord, is in jail, and his son, Ovi Jr, has been left in the care of his head of security, Saju. But eager for a little time free of Saju’s imperious watch, Ovi sneaks out to a club where he is promptly abducted by his father’s rival, Amir. Having failed his employer, and fearing repercussions upon his family, Saju seeks out the services of one man army and mercenary for hire, Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth), to get Ovi back.
[Hargrave's] ability to capture an action sequence with clarity, with precision and without the forgiving mask of shaky-cam is a real breath of fresh air
If the plot sounds a little bit like a Taken clone to you, then you’re not far wrong; there are certainly the hallmarks of the kidnap / man on a mission sub-genre here: tortured family man with a set of lethal skills. But these paint-by-numbers genre tropes are used to lull the viewer into a false sense of security and the film takes a couple of really big swings early on to try to reassure that, far from a typical Taken riff, all bets are off. One of Rake’s first lines is the knowing phrase “hold my beer”. The hour and a half of frenetic and well-choreographed action sequences that follow are not quite dumb or hyperbolic enough to warrant that, but it's pretty close. That’s not to say that the film shrugs off all the usual trappings. The hard-boiled dialogue is still there, as are the underdeveloped secondary characters and predictable plot developments, and you can feel the film struggling to fully escape its roots.
Written and produced by the Russo bothers and based on their original graphic novel Ciudad, the action is transposed from Ciudad del Este in Paraguay to Dhaka, Bangladesh. Directorial control has been passed to Sam Hargrave best known as stunt coordinator and second unit director for the Russo brothers’ MCU movies. His ability to capture an action sequence with clarity, with precision and without the forgiving mask of shaky-cam is a real breath of fresh air for the action genre. Every wet crunch in the film is hard earned through an unflinching and unforgiving steady gaze on the accuracy of the close quarters combat.
The prestige piece of the film is a 12 minute “single take” action sequence encapsulating a chase on foot, a gun battle, a high-speed car chase and a brutal fist fight. I put “single take” in very heavily inverted commas because, as impressive as it is – and it is breathtaking – the seams are even more obvious than in Sam Mendes' spectacular but flimsy 1917. That being said, some of the obvious practical transitions - passing the camera through a car window as it hurtles around a corner, say -are equally jaw-dropping and head-scratching .
What also makes Extraction stand out is its even-handed depiction of children in the life - as bystanders, as victims and as participants - giving the film an approximation of shades of City of God. There is no moral judgement passed over any of these minors, but instead a contextual understanding of how each of these roles come to be played as a result of the circumstances of their lives. It's a little laboured, but it gives the film an emotional depth not often seen in standard action fare. Unfortunately, the film tips over into senseless violence against children on more than one occasion which leaves rather a bitter taste.
... an emotional depth not often seen in standard action fare.
Visually, the film is somewhat ugly. The depiction of the lives of the characters is purposefully grim and their surroundings often reflect that. But the film goes one step further and combines that griminess with the archetypal turmeric tint that often accompanies western films set in South Asia to portray heat, dust and poverty. Intentionally or unintentionally, this combination makes almost every scene look just a bit gross. The pitfall of using the tint in every scene, as opposed to using it in contrast with cooler shades in other settings, is that some of the scenes lose a sense of depth and having the artificiality of the shot highlighted results in some scenes appearing flat.
Chris Hemsworth leads a cast of relative unknowns, with the exception of bit parts for Golshifteh Farahani (The Night Eats the World) and David Harbour (Hellboy). Hemsworth, returning to his native Australian accent for a change, is a charismatic lead and lends a likeable and surprisingly deep performance to his fairly 2-dimensional mercenary character. The story also manages to pick out moments of levity, thanks entirely to Hemsworth’s delivery. But it’s Randeep Hoodar who is the real revelation. As the enforcer, Saju, he manages to be believably frightening and sincere; tender with his family and brutal with his opponents. A widely known actor in India, this is his first international picture in a major role. Here’s hoping for more in the future.
There is more than enough in the film to recommend it and it’s certainly not another occasion where it’s obvious why it was dumped on Netflix, but for all its excitement and clever stunt work and talented performances, Extraction is no more than the sum of its finely crafted and well-oiled parts.
Oh, and the final scene is absolutely infuriating.
Note: A previous version of this review stated the action took place in Mumbai. Now corrected to Dhaka. Thanks to AVF user @The_Wierd for the correction
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