Reviewing this film here on HC is stretching the rules a bit, but it’s been done before. The excuse this time is that Extraction falls at the intersection of several points of interest for this site. Although it’s an American film, the setting is Bangladesh and India, the action is descended from the style popularised in various Asian film markets and that burly white guy on the poster is an Australian.
Stunt performers directing action films has become a bit of a trend over the last decade, one which has brought a lot of life back to a genre which was being suffocated by formulaic output rife with hyperactive editing and shaky cam without consideration for how these techniques were used. David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, John Wick), Chad Stahelski (all the John Wick films) and Jung Byung-gil (The Villainess) have all served up belter action scenes in mainstream movies. Joining their ranks with Extraction is Sam Hargrave, a machine of a stunt performer and coordinator in major Hollywood studio fare like The Hunger Games series and the biggest juggernaut of them all, the Marvel films. Several major Marvel members are along for the thrill ride, which probably helped secure the resources for a B actioner like this. Chris Hemsworth is front and centre on screen and Infinity War and Endgame directors Joe and Anthony Russo worked up the story with original graphic novel author Ande Parks.
That story is simple enough. Bangladeshi drug lord Amir Asif (Priyanshu Painyuli) has Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), the teenage son of his Indian rival, kidnapped. Australian mercenary Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) and his international backup team led by Nik Khan (Golshifteh Farahani) are hired to get the boy back. Go! But wait, wouldn’t you know it, Tyler is haunted by the death of his own son years ago. A father (figure) and son motif runs through the movie like a landscaped median strip on a highway — it raises the journey above the merely functional but doesn’t get in the way.
The setting is Dhaka, capital city of Bangladesh, and it’s a fantastic one for an action film. Sprawling and busy, Dhaka is surrounded on all sides by rivers, so when the extraction blows up and the city gets locked down, it narrows avenues of escape to the bridges. It’s textbook action stakes, trapping the characters and giving them a heck of a gauntlet to run to survive. Amir Asif seems to have the entire police force in his pocket, so the odds are pretty heavily stacked. The oppressive weight of the situation is heightened by the cinematography. The air is thick with smog and humidity, amplified by filters or colour grading that gives most of the film a stifling yellow-orange hue.
So to the main attraction, the action of Extraction, which is very well done and well worth catching. While not as fluid as in films starring martial artists, it doesn’t try to get too fancy, sticking to a brawling kind of style. Chris Hemsworth and Randeep Hooda acquit themselves well as the main combatants and truckloads of stuntmen take their hits and falls without lying down — until they are. It’s kind of like John Wick, but with a more acrobatic camera, the sort of coverage where the camera operator needs to be a stunt performer as well. (Director Hargrave captured some of the footage strapped to the bonnet of a car.) There’s guns, knives, hand-to-hand, vehicle chases and more all thrown together, in one scene in particular. The one this film will probably be most famous for in the future.
In a long, jaw-dropping sequence, Tyler and Ovi run, fight and drive for their lives, while a lot of other lives and property are destroyed. It begins running through a forest, shifts into a car chase, switches to on foot, up, down, through and across multiple apartment buildings, back to more vehicles and yeah, it’s effective! When the sequence ends, thinking back to the beginning feels like ages ago, but it’s only about eleven and a half minutes. Only. That’s a heck of a long time to sustain a scene like this so fluidly.
The concept of the “oner” — a long take without cutting — has been around for ages. As far back as Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), feature length films have been presented as a single take and the trend has seen a popular resurgence of late with 1917 being the most recent to walk that road. (A special shout out for German indie film Victoria, which is a genuine single take over two hours long.) The technique can potentially just feel like showing off, but done well helps the setting of a film feel like a real, contiguous place. Action oners done well have the additional advantage of really sucking the audience into the struggle of the character(s). They also ramp up the logistical and physical challenges, making them particularly breath-taking. Kung fu films with skilled performers would often have unbroken sequences of fight choreography, particularly in the hands of a director like Lau Kar Leung, who took great care in showcasing martial arts. However, these shots were usually pretty static and the roving camera following the action seen more recently makes things much more frenetic and in-the-moment. The first time I sat up and took notice was a shot following Dan Chupong as he shoots and fights his way through a village in Born to Fight. It’s “only” about a minute long, but full of great practical effects and camerawork. The next year The Protector wowed fight fans with Tony Jaa’s epic four minute battle against everyone trying to stop him getting to the top of the stairs. Nowadays there are countless examples. Every season of Daredevil has one and that’s a TV show! Ever advancing visual effects have made merging multiple shots into one a possibility which has made some bonkers moments filmed in pieces into absolute craziness when combined into one uber-shot. The Villainess is an eye-catching example of this. So proving that it’s technically possible is no longer enough. An action oner needs to be well integrated into the film and this one does the job.
Most importantly the story is told through this sequence as well, with small things like Ovi losing his bulletproof vest and in big picture stuff, with plot twists coming out through a character’s actions in the scene. It’s not all sound and fury either. There are quiet, tense moments where it’s uncertain when the next threat will appear and the camera even breaks away from the main characters sometimes to follow those hunting them instead. There are a couple of clunky moments where edits are stitched together but the effect is preserved. It’s one wild ride.
It’s without doubt the centrepiece of the film and it never quite reaches the same momentum again. There’s a significant sag in the pacing afterwards, full of wound dressing and introspection. Taking a breather was necessary, but not taking a nap. The film is too long and this section is where most of the trimming is needed. There’s also a tacked on denouement and no real reason to open with a scene near the end of the story before flashing back to arrive at that moment more than an hour and a half later.
The length also makes it something of a slog emotionally as Extraction is straddling the fence of gritty reality and stylised genre flick. It has the look and feel of a war film much of the time and the occasional orchestral swell telegraphing events before they happen. Yet Tyler Rake is a one man army mowing through the opposition, even if he gets hurt while doing so. He doesn’t so much walk away from an explosion as limp. A few moments of lightness are not delivered as one-liners which is actually kind of refreshing, but this tilts proceedings back toward the uncomfortably realistic. Twice in the same minute it seemed as though the film was going to get self-referential, but instead remained downbeat. Finally, a lot of kids in danger make many scenes dreadfully tense.
This review is probably longer than a film like this typically receives and maybe deserves, but Extraction comes crashing into the crossroads of so many interesting trends in action film it’s worth the word count. It may not be groundbreaking, but it certainly breaks a lot of other stuff.