When the mission ends, redemption begins.
When Ovi Mahajan (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), the tweenage son of an Indian drug lord (Pankaj Tripathi), is kidnapped by rival Bangladeshi drug kingpin Amir Asif (Priyanshu Painyuli), self-loathing Australian mercenary Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) is hired to handle pulling the kid out of Dhaka, the teeming, steaming capital city of Bangladesh.
With Asif controlling the streets and the corrupt police force, it’s all but a suicide mission, but that’s okay; Tyler is suicidal, with a drinking problem and a tragic backstory driving him to take on ever more reckless assignments. When the wheels come off this one, as they generally do in action narratives of this stripe, it’s our man Rake — who actually kills someone with a rake at one point — and his boat anchor of a charge against a whole corrupt city.
Extraction comes to us from the pen of Joe Russo, who with his brother Anthony is basically the MCU’s go-to shot-caller, and is directed by Sam Hargrave, a stuntman and stunt coordinator making his directorial debut here. It’s based on the graphic novel Ciudad by the Russo brothers, writer Ande Parks, and artist Fernando León González, which set its action in the Paraguayan city of Ciudad del Este. The reasons for its relocation to the subcontinent are probably more pragmatic than aesthetic; nonetheless, it’s refreshing in a way to see our white guy ubermensch hero blowing away an entirely different ethnicity of brown people in his quest for … well, it’s all a bit nebulous, really, but I aver it’s a change of pace from the usual Wild Bunch-descended ultraviolent south-of-the-border shenanigans.
Like its protagonist, who is an absolute murder machine when he’s not getting blitzed in the picturesque Kimberley region of Western Australian with his mates (an early sequence has Hemsworth hanging out with Indigenous Australian actor and director Wayne Blair), Extraction is ruthlessly efficient. It’s the sort of movie that you know the general shape of intent going in. The various reversals of fortune, betrayals, and disasters that dog Rake on his escort mission are not real surprises, but expected elaborations, their presence baked into the foundation of the film. It’s what the filmmakers and cast manage to do within the formal constraints of the film that is of interest, and in this particular case, these elements stack up to equal ‘pretty good but largely uninspired.’
Which seems like faint praise but have no doubt: if you like this sort of thing, you’ll like this one. Director Hargrave, who has 80 stunts credits on his IMDb page, knows his way around a fight scene, and there is some stunning combat choreography in play here, the standout of which is a 12-minute one-shot sequence encompassing all manner of mayhem from knife fights to car chases to run ‘n’ gun action — the knife fighting is particularly impressive from a technical standpoint.
That’s about the midpoint of the film, and easily the peak of the action. Indeed, by the time we’re about halfway through Extraction’s actual climactic combat sequence, you may find yourself checking your watch — it simply goes on and on and on, all exquisitely executed, but lacking the narrative rise and fall within the fighting that would make it dramatically engaging rather than just technically superb (that ‘just’ is used advisedly).
Still, there’s a lot to enjoy here. The cast alone is worth a look-see. Hemsworth remains a reliably charismatic performer, even if his natural charm is weighed down with his character’s grim backstory and dour demeanor, and in physical terms, he’s certainly got the chops for this sort of thing. Randeep Hooda, Monsoon Wedding (2001), crops up as the drug lord’s henchman who organizes the extraction mission, while Golshifteh Farahani, Paterson (2016), appears as Rake’s mercenary handler Nik Khan — and frankly, the sight of the acclaimed arthouse actor wielding a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher is worth the price of admission alone. For Stranger Things fans, the currently-ubiquitous David Harbour gets a few key moments as Gaspar, one of Rake’s old mercenary buddies — and if the question on your lips is which of these guys are going to turn out the be treacherous, the answer is ‘most of them.’
Extraction is a decent ride, and a successful one, financially speaking — the sequel is already in the works (which robs the film of some of its emotional impact, but what the hell). It’s nothing you haven’t seen before or, indeed, done better — the late Tony Scott’s 2004 thriller Man on Fire with Denzel Washington springs immediately to mind — but as a utilitarian slice of economical action grunt, it does the trick.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Travis Johnson