Within ten minutes a teenager is shot in the face. If you stick around for twenty more, another gets thrown off a roof. This is the world of Extraction. Dark, brooding, and gritty, but not in a good way. It feels like it was written by an angst-ridden teenage boy who wrote this on a weekend as he fumes about being grounded by parents that just don’t understand him.
The film is a Man on Fire wannabe that doesn’t put any effort into building the relationships between its characters to leave a meaningful impact. At the center of it all is a white man invading a non-western country littering the setting with foreign bodies in his wake though the action is so slick that one might be too distracted to notice the optics. Bangladesh is filtered through a yellow haze; its streets are crowded and its drug war is sadistic. The bad guys deserve to die because they’re the bad guys. Does this version of Bangladesh actually have any good guys?
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: A mercenary with a tragic past is hired to retrieve the kidnapped son of a drug lord, there are double-crosses, the odd couple gradually bond and a lot of people die. It is a tried and true formula, from which Extraction plays the hits, even going so far as to start in media res, starting at the climax and flashing back two days to show us how we got here. Why does the movie start here? Who knows, except writer Joe Russo and director Sam Hargrave probably saw it in other movies and thought it would be neat.
The mercenary, in this case, is named Tyler Rake, played by a stoic Chris Hemsworth, who actually does utilize a rake in his murder spree, although the film’s deathly serious tone never hones in on why this might be cute. Instead, it’s just two more people added to the body count. The kid he is hired to save/protect (Rudhraksh Jaiswal as Ovi) is given one note to play, and he is fine in the role but the dialogue he is laden with is so disastrous in its clunky expositional purpose that the film dies every time he opens his mouth.
About an hour into the film, after Tyler Rake has amassed a massive body count, the film stops on a dime so Ovi and Tyler can have a heart to heart. The scene functions as a moment to warm us to this Terminator-like killing machine and his package he’s tasked with protecting, but it feels like a chore, and not even Chris Hemsworth on his best day could sell the emotions he’s tasked with employing here. Ovi has father issues and Tyler has a tragic backstory; a backstory that we can easily predict within the first ten minutes as his flashbacks are all hazy and soaked in light, giving a dreamlike quality to a person who clearly meant a lot to Tyler who is no longer here. The fact that it took an hour for us to get here should tell you how little this movie thinks of its audience.
Nik (Golshifteh Farahani), a tough-minded confidant to Tyler who reaches out to him for this particular job and Saju (Randeep Hooda), the guardian to Ovi tasked with protecting him while Ovi’s drug lord father is in jail, should have been the leads of this film. This could have been Randeep Hooda’s Taken, as he has to fight his way through a country in order to retrieve and protect a child he cares about. It did not require a third-party mercenary. Nik could have been his eye in the sky who has to help in the field once we round into the final act. This movie could have been so much simpler and easier to like, with optics that didn’t lend themselves to xenophobic characteristics.
The film is produced by The Russos Brothers, who have a blank check to make whatever they want, but instead of highlighting the charisma and action prowess of two lesser-known actors of color, we get another stoic white man entering a foreign land and killing a lot of people that don’t look like him. Yes, the action is choreographed well. Sam Hargrave’s experience as a stunt coordinator (Atomic Blonde, Avengers: Endgame) comes in handy but the violence is ugly in its expectations of the audience to cheer. Though perhaps if this was playing in a theater the audience WOULD cheer. Maybe they’d cheer at the first action set-piece, thrilling them as Tyler Rake mows through a room full of baddies and rescues Ovi. But these bursts of violence, grotesque in their efficiency masks underlying xenophobia that never quite sits right even as we are expected to cheer.
Joe Russo (Avengers Endgame) wrote a rote screenplay with no discernible identity of its own, as it makes all of its inspirations look better by comparison, and Sam Hargrave shoots slick action but fails at every other facet of filmmaking. Watch any Tony Scott or Michael Bay film after watching Extraction and you’d think they were Orson Welles. Michael Bay might be nihilistically extravagant in his perspective, melding action with carnage like nobody else, but at the very least he has a clear grasp on his own philosophy, and he forces us to wrestle with the images he puts on screen. Sam Hargrave just makes us feel empty and cold and like we just wasted two hours.
A bloodbath that is impossible to enjoy because of its numbing destruction played for thrills. Just an empty exercise in stylistic action that leaves us with no point of view. Fast forward to the 12-minute single-take action sequence, and skip the rest.
Extraction is a bloodbath that is impossible to enjoy because of its numbing destruction played for thrills. An empty exercise in stylistic action that leaves us with no point of view.