Hiring an unsavoury sort of chap to secure to the safety of a loved one has seemingly grown into its own genre these days, hasn’t it? From director and stunt-coordinator Sam Hargrave, Netflix is looking to secure viewership with the draw of high-stakes action, visuals and the mighty shoulders of Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth. Hemsworth stars as Tyler Rake, an air soldier-turned mercenary, tasked with securing the son of India’s largest drug-lord, who has been kidnapped by his competitor.
For the most part, banking on Hemsworth and Hargrave has served well for Netflix. What works in Extraction lies squarely on those concrete shoulders, a safe foundation. The audience is quick to side with Hemsworth’s role. It’s a magnetic performance, which draws us in both to the mystery of Rake’s previous actions and the ongoing mission, excessively bolstered by spectacular choreography and the attitude Hemsworth exudes, particularly through his interactions with old colleague Gaspar.
These scenes are touching, character building and reinforce Netflix’s firm grip on their good luck charm David Harbour (who plays Gaspar), but they’re few and far between. They should be seen as anchors showing where Hemsworth’s character has grown across the film, but instead are moments of forced exposition to attribute ‘depth’ between body counts. It’s frustrating, as from a casting perspective, Hargrave and the Russo brothers lay superb foundations. Priyanshu Painyuli takes a turn as a sadistically narcissistic villain, while Golshifteh Farahani deserves a larger role as Rake’s mercenary partner who unequivocally steals the final moments of the film. Although it is young actor Suraj Rikame whose minimal screentime as Farhad makes a significant impact. A teen born into an internal drug war, Farhad is a harrowing reminder of the perversion of adolescence into soldiers.
At times, Hargrave mistakes excess for edginess, cluttering otherwise impressive one-take shots and stretching them beyond technical impressiveness into cartoonish violence. It’s staggeringly well-choreographed, as shots follows Hemsworth through buildings, switching points of view in seamless transitions over stairwells, through windows and flipping over shoulders. Fundamentally, the skill of this lies in stunt choreography, which is no shock, considering director Hargrave’s domination of stunt-coordination of mammoth Hollywood films.
This does raise questions regarding an infusion of choreography from a movement expert’s perspective, and from that of the cinematography. Despite managing to keep up with the pacing, this latter aspect isn’t framed particularly well throughout and tends to home in on Hemsworth’s mug, rather than the action at hand. Certainly dynamic in composition, but narratively successful? Dubious.
Any argument made of Extraction’s ‘awareness’ in its grotesquely unnecessary violence and quips is at fault. This springs from the unease of a director who seems unsure whether to push for a pastiche or to deploy a genuine bloodthirsty depiction of modern civilian warfare, landing somewhere in the middle and echoing an extended gaming cutscene. Occasionally, it works, showcasing the brutality of drug wars. The issue arises when Extraction steps beyond realism and makes obvious moves to intensify violence, which removes tension and strays into a fantasy level of conflict.
Extraction is already proving itself as a successful piece of Netflix’s arsenal, but when placing it on the table against similar in the genre, it’s vastly overcast by superior films. Hemsworth turns in a solid performance, but did Netflix necessarily intend to bank on another ‘white saviour’ narrative? Extraction isn’t bringing much to the table, but if this was all the film is guilty of, it’s safe to say Netflix is deploying all tactics and star power to stay above its growing competition – and for now, it’s working.
Extraction is available now on Netflix