Since being plucked from relative obscurity by uber-producer Kevin Feige, the Russo brothers, Joe and Anthony, have become two of the most commercially successful directors of all time. They now seem determined to emulate their former boss, albeit on a smaller scale. Creating their own production company, AGBO, they’ve managed to marshal several medium-budget projects to the screen for an assortment of MCU actors and craftspeople. 2019 saw the release of the pretty good 21 Bridges, starring Black Panther himself, Chadwick Boseman, and now we’ve got Extraction, another attempt to give Chris Hemsworth a decent role beyond Thor (there’s a third release on the way, Cherry, starring Tom Holland). Extraction is written by Joe, from a graphic novel he and Anthony wrote years ago, and directed by Sam Hargrave, who’s been a stunt double, action coordinator, and 2nd unit director for a bunch of MCU flicks. Thankfully, then, Hargrave seems more Chad Stahelski than David Leitch; Stahelski is currently the gold standard in stunt-person turned director, bringing intricate choreography and precision gunplay to the John Wick franchise. Extraction takes its visceral cues from those flicks, emphasizing careful long takes and brutal shootouts to compensate for a mostly cliche-ridden screenplay.
Hargrave shoots hand-to-hand fights for maximum impact, and while John Wick is an obvious touchstone, Hargrave is savvy enough to realize the Hemsworth is not Keanu Reeves.
Hemsworth plays Tyler Rake, a former soldier turned mercenary who “extracts” clients and whose team has been hired to recover young Ovi, played by Rudhraksh Jaiswal. Ovi is the son of an Indian drug lord who’s been kidnapped by his father’s rivals. Of course things go south, as the father can’t actually afford to pay the mercenary team. Instead, he sends his right-hand man, a badass former special-ops dude named Saju (Randeep Hooda) to eliminate Rake and bring Ovi back. And the kidnappers are also on their trail, sending corrupt cops and soldiers after them to retrieve the boy. It’s a race against time, as Rake must get Ovi to the extraction point while being pursued on all sides (and I haven’t even mentioned the weird subplot with the child soldiers, an incredibly distasteful and unnecessary bit of nonsense). That’s about it, plot-wise, thankfully. The writing here isn’t the film’s strength; Rake is a walking realization of cliched, cop-on-the-edge tics, washing down pain pills with booze and dreaming of his dead kid. If you think there’s a pretty good chance that this rough and tumble soldier will turn out to have a heart of gold and become friends with Ovi, deciding to risk it all to save this kid and seek redemption, then congratulations, you’ve seen a movie before. But we aren’t here for the story (or lack thereof), we’re here for the action, and on that front, Hargrave and co. deliver.
Much has already been made of Extraction‘s 12-minute long “oner,” typically an epic long take but nowadays usually the result of a bunch of shorter takes stitched together with in-camera trickery and digital suturing. Frankly, with advances in digital cameras and special effects, these types of grandstanding stylistic flourishes don’t mean much anymore. They’re easier to make than ever, as evidenced by the recent onslaught of one-take movies like Bushwick, The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open, and of course 1917. When they are effective, it’s as a kind of visual reflection of extension of a particular frame of mind or emotion. Extraction‘s long take works in as much as it literalizes, in real time, the physical toll all of this running and fighting is taking on Hemsworth’s body. The scene starts in a car, tracking in and around the vehicle, then follows Rake and Ovi on foot up stairs and through a building, before plummeting out a window as Rake and the pursuing Saju fall to the street below and commence an immediate knife fight. More impressive, though, is the roughly 20 minutes of sustained action at the end of the film, as Rake and Saju have now teamed up to get Ovi across a bridge that has been barricaded by the military. Hargrave cross cuts between Rake blowing shit up to create a diversion while Ovi and Saju wind their way through an ocean of cars to cross the bridge. Hargrave shoots hand-to-hand fights for maximum impact, and while John Wick is an obvious touchstone, Hargrave is savvy enough to realize the Hemsworth is not Keanu Reeves. There’s no real attempt at graceful movements here, none of the dancer’s elegance that Reeves is so good at. Hemsworth is all bulk, and Hargrave emphasizes that big, hulking physicality, as Rake kicks dudes through doors, hurls tables at heads, and swings a dead guy so hard that he snaps another man’s neck. The action is mostly clean and precise, a clear indication of Hargrave’s foundation and the respect he has for what these stunt people do: if you’re going to choreograph it, put it all on screen so we can see it. And in that spirit, Extraction is a blast, a tonic for action junkies who can’t wait for John Wick 4 or another flick by Gareth Evans or Timo Tjahjanto.
You can currently stream Sam Hargrave’s Extraction on Netflix.