EXTRACTION— 3 STARS
Call this a meandering musing, but it’s a tad quizzical how far apart the definitions of “mercy” and “mercenary” are despite their beginning spellings. There is not harming someone you have power over versus a soldier paid to fight for money. You won’t find those two words supporting the old “one hands washes the other” expression. Nonetheless, here in the new Netflix Chris Hemsworth vehicle Extraction one could wring a towel dripping with the unexpected mix of blood and suds. That makes for a messy and albeit entertaining proposition on the wiggle room to have mercy in a mercenary.
After a see-you-back-here later tease of the climax, the top-billed soldier-of-fortune Tyler Rake, is properly introduced shortly thereafter with a macho rainbow of character establishment consisting of swigging beers one moment and cliff-diving into an underwater meditation session the next. His rugged tattoos, coarse stubble, and strapping muscles insinuate that he’s good and ready at what he does. His squinted eyes and morose tough talk communicate an unspoken sorrow that clues something else entirely. No matter which mode, the mismatched swerves of his actions and facade scream “take me and my heart seriously.” Welcome to the odd pairing of mercy in a mercenary.
The paycheck to correct the kidnapping of imprisoned Indian crime lord Ovi Mahajan’s (Gangs of Wesseypur’s Pankaj Tripathi) teenage son Ovi Jr. (newcomer Rudhraksh Jaiswal) brings forth inside and outside attention and participation in southeast Asia. Tyler’s handler Nik Khan (Golshifteh Farahani of Patterson) activates the heavy-hitting retrieval specialist from his Australian siesta. Meanwhile, Mahajan Sr. has threatened the family of one of his own top agents named Saju (Sarbjit star Randeep Hooda) to solve this issue himself.
The decadent and coldly vicious man behind the crime is Mahajan’s Bangladeshi rival Amir Asef (Priyanshu Painyuli of Bhavesh Joshi Superhero). He has taken the prized teen to his home turf of Dhaka. There, his seemingly endless squad of hired and indoctrinated guns, young and old, uniformed and undesirable alike, can cover every inch of the city at Amir’s beck and call.
LESSON #1: EVEN HUNTERS HAVE HEARTS— Ah, but this is Tyler Rake, indomitable one moment and virtuous the next. Believe it or not, his quieter vocal exchanges, often with Ovi Jr., squeeze a few tears from the hunk, peeling away the hardened soul of a grieving father. Extraction clearly means to flaunt a man-of-action with a heart of principles underneath and Tyler Rake isn’t the only proud father in this game.
LESSON #2: WHATEVER IT TAKES— Call this stealing from Avengers: Endgame all you want, especially considering the presence of Hemsworth, but all sides engaged in this 24-hour pursuit are nonstop with their efforts, be that capturing, killing, or protecting. Think of this all like a mad mashup of the adrenaline of Imagine Dragons and longing of Lifehouse with their song cuts matching this lesson’s title. Everyone has their gear and it’s a red-lining one.
From a casting standpoint, the movie certainly has Lesson #1 in Chris Hemsworth. Surprisingly, despite his high capacity for chummy comedy and winking sarcasm, the Aussie plays this part as straight as a sniper. Smartly and stoically, there are no “yippee-ki-yeah” one-liners delivered by Hemsworth when his merc dispatches an opponent to a gruesome death. Tyler’s blows and trigger pulls have grit, and the actor (aided by 8-time stunt double Bobby Holland Hanton) sells the exhaustive expenditure of energy better than a WWE superstar sells suplexes and steel chair shots. Next to Hemsworth, Randeep Hooda pleasantly blooms from one-dimensionality into a second compelling action figure.
What is kicking up Hemsworth’s and your own cardio from the couch is the rampant and raucous action orchestrated by first-time feature director Sam Hargrave. The diversifying filmmaker follows the successful paths of Hal Needham (Smokey and the Bandit), Ric Roman Waugh (Snitch), Nash Edgerton (Gringo), Chad Stahelski (the John Wick series), and David Leitch (Atomic Blonde) from the ranks of the stunt department. Hargrave has 80 stunt credits in his career, including head coordinating jobs on the last two Avengers films for Anthony and Joe Russo. It’s quickly clear he learned more than a few keen things, starting with hiring veteran cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, Bryan Singer’s regular DP.
With a stuntman calling the shots and a stud lenser filming them, the action sequences of Extraction are something to behold. Sure, we’ve become privy (spoiled is more like it) to exceptionally dexterous fight movies lately. That did not stop this hungry production team from throwing new ideas of creative fights and creative kills at the wall until they stick. Many of the crew positions, like Hargrave, are first-time leaders from the Marvel tree being promoted to higher positions in their usual technical fields. There is an unlazy vigor from all involved, including stunt coordinator Daniel Stevens, second unit director Thayr Harris, and fight coordinator Michael Lehr.
Nestled between stellar opening and closing set pieces, there is a central chase scene of moving parts and flailing bodies that is absolutely head-spinning. Magical effects and slick editing blend the shifting booms, tilts, and pans of camera perspectives from Sigel and steadicam operator Andrew AJ Johnson (Mad Max: Fury Road). The vehicular and melee cavalcade of point blank falls, tumbles, spills, and crashes have the illusion of being one continuous and glorious single stretch.
While this may all read like a bunch of wild men showing off, the narrative of Extraction doesn’t stop to admire its kills for audience reaction. It kinetically moves to the next obstacle. If there is one section of dead weight that goes against the haste, it’s the inclusion of David Harbour and a pause button section of laying low with his old ally. In a movie that skips romances and bromances that normally sully similar films, this underdeveloped subplot is the wrong kind of slowdown.
What can easily feel like a video game scribbled together with randomness actually comes from the taut 2014 indie graphic novel Cuidad conceived by the Russo brothers and Ande Parks. Joe, a co-steward of the Avengers and Captain America trilogies, wrote his own screen adaptation and shifted the Extraction setting from Paraguay to Bangladesh. That exotic switch opened up a huge opportunity of fresh casting diversity in front of and behind the camera, and the debuting talent made the most of this prime opportunity. Unlike his Russo’s superhero work, the tone is fittingly harsher. Violence is king. Seediness runs the show. Sweat is everywhere. Real fights cause real wounds, and no one’s safety is assured. That’s a rugged quality for Hemsworth and company better than most glamour projects.