Extraction Chris Hemsworth

Extraction is prime calling-card filmmaking

This Chris Hemsworth vehicle exists mainly to prove that director (and ex stunt coordinator) Sam Hargrave knows his way around an action scene.

I understand why Hollywood stars exist. I understand why there is a system in place to ensure that they are beloved the world over, even in countries where no one looks like Chris Hemsworth. A Hollywood star is a contingency plan, in a way; the presence of a Chris Hemsworth in a film ensures a base level of interest by countries where the presence of, say, Nawazudin Siddiqui may not draw as much interest. Movies are a global business even if, as Bong Joon-Ho would say, the Oscars are a very local phenomenon. But I cannot comprehend why, in a world where streaming has made Money Heist a global Netflix phenomenon and where Parasite can sweep the Oscars, a film like Extraction has to star Chris Hemsworth.

It’s not even that I don’t like Chris Hemsworth. He’s solid as far as Hollywood Chrises go, and he has definitely improved massively since he was first cast as Thor. He is a handsome, charismatic white boy movie star in as classic a mold as you can possibly imagine – but there isn’t a single second where he’s on-screen in Extraction that I didn’t at least entertain the idea that someone else could be in it. It’s a bit like the Hotel Mumbai conundrum: it’s not so much implausible or wrong that there are famous white people at the centre of this movie, it’s that I really do wish there was this kind of momentum and this level of resources put behind a movie that wasn’t, it turns out, made mostly to trot out our favourite superhero guy.

Ovi (Rudraksh Jaiswal) is the son of a wealthy drug dealer currently rotting in jail for his drug-dealer-related misadventures. He is handled mainly by Saju (Randeep Hooda), his father’s second-in-command. Saju knows that Ovi has a perpetual target on his head because of who his father is, but even he can’t stop him from sneaking out, which Ovi does on a regular basis. Smoking a joint behind a club one day, Ovi and his friend are accosted by two police officers who put a bullet in the friend’s head and kidnap Ovi. Mercenary Tyler Rake (Hemsworth) is hired to bring Ovi back, a fairly simple operation on the surface that soon turns into a clusterfuck of double-crossing and worst-case scenarios.

Extraction is the directorial debut of Sam Hargrave, probably best known as a stuntman and stunt coordinator on the Avengers movies directed by the Russo Brothers (who produced Extraction for Netflix based on a screenplay by Joe). If that wasn’t extremely obvious from the sheer volume of elaborate action sequences contained here, it becomes doubly obvious when the film unfolds in a parade of clichés and placeholder narrative details that seem to have been explicitly chosen so as to not detract from the action scenes. Unlike Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (the other two stunt coordinators-turned-directors who, between the two of them, now control the majority of Hollywood’s action output), Hargrave’s influences aren’t really in the Hong Kong / John Woo / martial arts vein. The influence of The Raid is pretty clear, but Hargrave seems more interested in making something grittier that comes down closer to the wire. Tony Scott comes to mind, both for the film’s severely tinted cinematography and for how thematically simpatico it is with Scott’s Man on Fire, but the setting and general tone also evokes bring Anurag Kashyap and Sicario.

Suffice to say that with those kinds of influences, Extraction is brutal and relentless. It doesn’t let up for very long. Like Atomic Blonde, it busts out its most bravura sequence (which, in fact, has a lot in common with the scene in Atomic Blonde) about one-third of the way through, but it offers plenty of squibs and snapped necks for the rest of its run. When Extraction fires on all cylinders, it’s at the very least impressive. Action sequences that unfold in one long, increasingly elaborate tracking shot are almost par for the course in action filmmaking these days, but Extraction seems intent on one-upping even that. There are bits of Extraction that are truly impressive in a way that I cannot even wrap my mind around — but they’re just that: bits of muscle-flexing in a whole that plays like a calling card more than a full-blown film.

If Extraction is indeed a proof-of-concept project to showcase the (admittedly obvious) talents of its director, then the casting of Hemsworth represents a kind of saving-face conservatism that betrays the fact that the money behind Extraction wasn’t so confident that people were going to watch a bone-crunching action movie set in India if an Avenger wasn’t in it. As I stated above, it’s not that Hemsworth is bad; by the time he meets up with an old friend from the trenches (David Harbour) and eventually lays out his sad backstory (hint: it is exactly the same sad backstory as every other grizzled badass with apparently no wife or kids has had in movies like this one), it’s obvious that there are disappointingly conventional forces at play. If Extraction does anything to prove anything about Hargreave, it should be that the next one focuses entirely on dudes being thrown off roofs and sniped off bridges onto ramshackle fishing boats. ■

Extraction is streaming on Netflix Canada now.

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