Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Rated R, 116 minutes
Directed by: Sam Hargrave
Director Sam Hargrave’s EXTRACTION is in dire need of a script doctor to punch up his unapologetically violent action extravaganza. His gorgeous vision, giving gloss to the grime and gravitas, collapses under the narrative’s constant barrage of clichés, convolution and contrivance. Not only is it painfully reductive of both magnificent and mediocre actioners that have come before, it suffers from pacing issues that detract from the one stunning set piece that occurs too early on.
We meet black market mercenary Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) bloody, sweat-drenched and weary from a battle he’s clearly on the losing end of. And the bullet he just took in the neck could spell the end of his journey. Yet this tale began in media res, a huge cinematic pet peeve of mine as it adds absolutely nothing interesting to the feature and comes at a detriment to the climax, robbing it of necessary tension-fueled power. We’ve now been clued in to the fact he’ll be surviving every pursuit leading up to this moment.
Flashback to two days prior in Mumbai, India where teenager Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) resides. It was much bluer back then, as cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel’s chilly, steely, solitary-toned color palette indicates, reflecting Ovi’s lonely, latchkey kid life as the son of a wealthy drug lord. His dad’s in jail and his guardian, ex-special forces officer Saju (Randeep Hooda), isn’t much of a surrogate caregiver since he’s got his own young flesh-and-blood.
But once Ovi is kidnapped, sent to Bangladesh and held for ransom by rival drug lord Amir Asif (Priyanshu Painyuli), it becomes Saju’s problem. He hires Tyler to extract the kid from his captors, but can’t afford to pay Tyler. Why Saju, with all his high-ranking skillsets, outsources the job to a white guy, not trusting his own capabilities, is the first leap in logic the filmmakers expect the audience to take. Saju’s scheme is to kill Tyler and grab Ovi before Asif’s henchmen and corrupt cops take them all down. Only he didn’t bet on Tyler being a worthy adversary.
Creative decisions motivated by inane Movie Reasons begin to prevail at this point. Tyler assumes that Saju’s in Asif’s pocket, when in fact he isn’t – and there’s no convincing resolution to this either. It would’ve been a far more dynamic, character-based turn of events for Saju if he was caught in a push-pull conundrum of guaranteeing his own family’s security (financial and physical) versus one kid’s. Conflicts are only conflicts until screenwriter Joe Russo deems so. Tyler’s outstanding tab is predictably rendered moot when he and Saju stop fighting and work together at the behest of their charge’s well-being.
Pacing also proves problematic. Hargrave, who cut his chops as Chris Evans’ stuntman in the AVENGERS films, places his pièce de résistance action sequence in the middle of act two as a tease to bigger set pieces to come, much like director/ writer Chris McQuarrie does with his MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE films. It also steals a page from BIRDMAN. This would be great if the rest of the action scenes even came close to the electrifying zing this one delivers, but they don’t. This standout “seamless” segment – involving a car chase in city streets, a foot pursuit in a ramshackle apartment building and a street fight that’s continually interrupted by traffic chaos – balances the craft of the continuous take, fluid camera work and the stunt team’s impeccable choreography.
The proceedings stall again during emotionally-charged moments. Talky bits between Tyler and Ovi and between Tyler and his former colleague Gaspar (David Harbour) serve to drag down the mounting momentum. These scenes also reiterate through expository dialogue dumps what we’ve already been shown about these sorry souls’ backstories.
Not having read “Ciudad,” the graphic novel by Ande Parks (featuring a story by Parks, Joe and Anthony Russo) on which this is based, I wonder if Tyler was an 11th hour addition in order to secure financing and distribution. Perhaps even in the book the character still feels wedged into what should be a streamlined story about fathers, sons and the weighty emotional burdens they each are forced to shoulder. As of now, the cinematic iteration smacks of a white savior story (even despite the technicalities) when it should’ve been about Saju’s fight to save another man’s son while struggling to keep his own safe.
It’s admirable Russo and Hargraves wanted to bring an issues-based thread into the film’s fabric. Amir’s sadistic, despicable exploitation of impoverished child soldiers spotlights how truly evil he is and how desperate these kids are to survive. However, the pair can’t find their footing when it comes to its serious nature. Tyler comes into contact with these tiny terrors three times, but only twice does it stick. The first time is Tyler’s “Save the Cat” moment, where he dismisses a murder-minded moppet. The third time, in the climax, is where screenwriter’s sentimentality is at its most heavy handed. However, the second time is where it gets ropey. Tyler encounters the tween gang, brandishing arms. The ensuing fisticuffs are hobbled by a tone oscillating between serious (audibly demonstrated in Alex Belcher and Henry Jackman’s score) and outlandish (Tyler snarking “Piss off,” and fight choreography that tips the cap to Jackie Chan’s slapstick).
In the post-JOHN WICK era, there are simply no good excuses for eschewing a simple, clean narrative in star vehicles primarily designed to show off spectacular stunts and action. Yet here we are, plodding through a plot weighed down with excessive backstory and muddled character motivations. It’s just too bad the filmmakers didn’t extract the bad from the good here.
EXTRACTION will be streaming on Netflix on April 24.