Directed By Sam Hargrave
Starring – Chris Hemsworth, Golshifteh Farahani, David Harbour
The Plot – In an underworld of weapons dealers and traffickers, a young boy becomes the pawn in a war between notorious drug lords. Trapped by kidnappers inside one of the world’s most impenetrable cities, his rescue beckons the unparalleled skill of a mercenary named Tyler Rake (Hemsworth), but Rake is a broken man with nothing to lose, harboring a death wish that makes an already deadly mission near impossible.
Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, adult language and brief drug use
– Bridging the gap. The advantage that the theater experience packs, both in satisfying production value and the idea of getting what you paid for, cuts the distance even shorter with “Extraction”, a movie so jam-packed with surreal aesthetic pulse that feels like it could’ve debuted in the midst of a Summer blockbuster season. When the film isn’t throwing an endless array of engulfing explosions and thunderously immersive sound design at you, it’s the breakthrough direction from Hargrave that supplants no shortage of urgency or paranoia that stays hot on the trail of our duo of protagonists, and allows the audience an engaging lure in a race-against-the-clock rampage that at least visually is a step in the right direction for Netflix production. On top of it all, the sunbaked cinematography from Newton Thomas Sigel, the same artist responsible for the intoxicating neon aesthetics in 2011’s “Drive”, is one that doesn’t sacrifice beauty for its yellow-dominating color pallet, and only adds to the believability geographically for where this story takes place.
– Our hero. Hemsworth’s Tyler Rake is anything but original in the mental conflict that constantly haunts him as a reminder of bad decisions, but there were a few elements to his character that I did find intriguing none the less. First of all, even as a man with a death wish, he’s very engaged in the conflicts and dangers that arise as part of his mission. If this were simply Hemsworth playing cool for the camera, it would remove all intrigue and uncertainty from what develops, but the screenwriters are wise enough to keep him from competently adapting to what arises. In addition to this, it’s the vulnerability that his character endures through one ass-kicking after another that grounds him in humanity, and establishes the very realistic heft of consequences that so much of the movie’s second half is unabashedly relishing in. Finally, Rake never sees himself as a hero, nor a man who is even remotely brave, just someone taking a job to make a paycheck. This not only allows him to keep his eyes on the prize, but also makes his sometimes cryptic movements easy to understand when the situation changes. He’s a very 21st century kind of hero, in that he never feels bigger than the movie surrounding him, just a man with an opportunity, who just so happens to be good at what he does.
– THORoughly riveting. It’s certainly nothing new to see Chris Hemsworth in a role playing an action-packed badass, but it’s the nuances about his portrayal as Tyler that proves this man has no shortage of depth that keeps him from ever being a one trick pony. For most of the movie, Hemsworth’s endless charisma that we’ve come to expect is shelved for a reserved personality full of demons, and it’s in those revealing struggles where we learn so much about what his character is holding onto mentally that allows us further understanding of the creature seen front-and-center before us. As usual, Hemsworth is exceptionally believable as an action juggernaut, but it’s really his scenes of emotional grit that won the day for me, and allowed him to consistently flesh out the dramatic material that so many lesser-helmed action movies simply ignore. With no one else in the film even coming close to Chris’s range, it affords him the chance to control the attention all on his own, and build his brand in a way that doesn’t require familiarity to typecast his acting existence.
– Exceptional action. In 2020, it would be easy to minimalize the importance of adding some artistic identity to action sequences, but “Extraction” learns enough from the good and bad of its genre to succeed in crafting no shortage of energetic confrontations. The fight choreography is every bit believable as it is unforgiving to anyone involved, but beyond that it’s the measures taken in post production that makes everything easily detectable. In that regard, the editing is patient, minimal, and continuously cohesive in never taking away from what is transpiring in the heat of the conflict. It makes everything and everyone work together in one fluid movement, and stands alone as some of the very best action sequences that I have seen four months into this unfortunately depleted cinematic year.
– Experimentation behind the lens. It took me a while to catch on, but the film switches up visual matters dramatically when the air of conflict takes shape, and makes for some stunning sequences that shouldn’t be undervalued for what they produce. Evolving from a still-frame shot composition that relies on editing for its movements, the visual capacities switch to handheld when the action rises on the horizon, giving us transparency in the form of claustrophobia that bonds us to what is transpiring. As I said before, nothing ever is diluted visually because of this, and just when you think you have everything figured out, Hargrave switches it up again, giving us manipulated long take sequences to bottle the intensity, and make everything feel continuously erratic beyond our wildest expectations. Even the versatility of movements that the camera takes in many of its trailing shots are impressive enough, but when you factor them into moving along with the influence of the characters, it creates a powderkeg of dynamite that sees and hears as one cohesive unit. Impressive to say the least.
– Stunt work. Considering this is the computer generation era, where green-screen limits the appeal of a lost art known as the stuntman, it’s very rare that I get a chance to thank these legends in the lens, when it comes to constantly risking their lives for our entertainment. “Extraction” has a few of these, and these artists are put through the physical ringer when dealing with fire, long falls, and a variety of flips and hurls that makes everything we see feel rich with authenticity. In visual likeness, all of the stuntmen match seamlessly to their big name counterparts, making scenes of what we’re seeing in facial likeness feel difficult to dissect when one side cuts and the other side comes in. It’s nice to see a film that still values these warriors who are not afraid to put their bodies through hell for our entertainment, and there’s a reason this is the first film since “The Raid 2” where I’ve credited them, mainly because their influence feels as prominent here more than it has anywhere else since.
– Tonally consistent. It could’ve been easy for this film to reach for comedic ice-breaking material beneath its suffocating levels of dramatic tension, but thankfully Hargrave’s vision remains consistent throughout, and doesn’t require reaching for low-hanging fruit to give his audience a moment of release. Especially is the case during buddy-fugitive films, where a kid will be thrown in to off-set the ferocity of a badass central protagonist with no shortage of edginess, this film instead resists, and keeps the mental stigma of Tyler, as well as the dangerous environment that surround our duo firmly in tow, keeping us from ever feeling like two different writers wrote this with entirely different intentions. Because of such, it might not be the most exciting of watches to audiences because it chooses to lack a personality, but to me it feels essential when you’ve established a particular environment, and then utilize it to create the most consequential of circumstances persisting from within it.
– Weak characterization. This is spread everywhere, as even in a two hour film full of expositional possibilities, I still felt like I learned so very little about everyone involved. This is bad enough for Hemsworth’s Tyler, as beyond what has happened in his past, we learn so little about him now beyond what is visually apparent, but the rest of the ensemble characters are even more disappointingly cryptic, despite being blessed with an abundance of screen time. Some characters are introduced then never brought in again, some are one-note cliches that we’ve seen done better and more compelling a hundred times before, and in the case of a surprising cameo like Harbour, disappointment from lack of creativity going into their invitation. When you have a relevant name like his, you feel he is going to play some pivotal role in what develops, but unfortunately the movie lets him and us down tremendously by giving him a one-and-done rendering, that could’ve easily been left on the editing room floor.
– Action genre tropes. There are tons of them in this film. Some of which are forgettable for how they are expected in a popcorn action flick, but others that are almost frustrating for how they’re meant to invoke a personal feeling to what that character is forced to deal with. In this case, it’s the conventional ‘Tortured vigilante’ construct that The Punisher made famous in the 1940’s, that nearly every badass figure of cinema since has molded for their own. But the tropes only begin there. Beyond that, the endless supply of bullets in a gun’s chamber, the inconsistent movements of drug cartels, and the backstabbing of trusted characters keeps this film from ever feeling original, and guided along the script in a predictable confine, that even though was entertaining as a whole, didn’t challenge me mentally in a way that could stimulate me in between these tense moments of action.
– Overly ambitious run time. “Extraction” is just short of being a two hour movie, but when you notice the unnecessary padding that takes shape from within, you see a thrilling 100 minute film somewhere beneath that is just screaming to get out. Lack of exposition certainly contributes to this, as the film slugs along during non-action scenes, and makes us antsy with anticipation for when the next gun will go off, if only just to invest some excitement into this otherwise sluggish screenplay. Beyond that, the repetition in formula between conflict set-up’s, as well as an overall story that, quite frankly, isn’t that expanding or subversive in deconstructing mindless perceptions of the genre. These measures are minimal though, when compared to a 13 minute credits run time that is the definition of slow moving, and pivotal in padding this thing out to reach the two hour intention that it so devilishly desired. It’s one of those movies that is a point higher if it trims the fat, and keeps what is essentially necessary, but feels like it needs another editor’s cut when left completely untouched to reach its timely destination.
My Grade: 7/10 or C+