Question: Is one dynamite 11-and-a-half-minute action sequence, which is meant to look like it unfolds without edits, reason alone to recommend a movie? In the case of the new Netflix film Extraction, the answer is “Almost.” Director Sam Hargrave, who has coordinated stunts in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has assembled one of the more memorable sustained “single takes” in recent movie history. Ultimately, it can’t cover up for the fact that the movie around it is pretty pedestrian.
Extraction suffers from a similar problem to the movie Atomic Blonde from a couple years ago, which was directed by another acclaimed stunt coordinator, David Leitch. Anyone who watched that movie raved about the astonishing extended scene where Charlize Theron fights a bunch of bad guys in an apartment building stairwell, a logistical headache that played out on screen with thrilling vitality and intensity. But the rest of the movie? Just a forgettable spy thriller with its numerous double crosses and other hokum. Extraction is kind of the “mercenary saves drug lord’s kidnapped son” version of that.
Australia’s most bankable current export, Chris Hemsworth, stars as that mercenary, who is seen camping in the Kimberley at the start of the movie, where he drops 30 meters into the water below a cliff like it was nothing. It’s that kind of courage a man needs to infiltrate the location where the son (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) of a jailed Indian drug lord has been kidnapped, as the latest escalation in a drug war that crosses the Indian-Bangladeshi border.
As the title might suggest, it’s not the rescue itself that is so complicated, but the extraction from the danger zone into safe territory. The rival drug lord (Priyanshu Painyuli) has near complete control of Dhaka City’s law enforcement resources, so an escaping Aussie and his 14-year-old companion have roadblocks and stumbling blocks at every turn. Not to mention a skilled soldier (Randeep Hooda) sent by the jailed drug lord to complete the same task of extracting his son, who is doing so under dire threats to the safety of his own family.
Since there’s a lot mediocre about this movie to discuss, let’s start out with the really good. As Tyler (Hemsworth) and Omi (Jaiswal) jump into a car to escape the pursuing Saju (Hooda), it kicks off a scintillating chase that doesn’t let up for more than 11 minutes. The camera of DP Newton Thomas Sigel follows them by car, by foot up and through numerous tenements, from the top of one building across the abyss to the top of another, over the side of that building, and back into a car again before it stops to catch its breath. There are people being shot, punched, kicked, hit by cars, and in all other ways killed or – somehow – not killed during the entirety of this “unbroken” take. Most viewers understand it would be impossible to film this scene without, probably, 25 to 50 edits, but the technology has gotten so good that you can’t definitively identify a single one of them. It’s as thrilling as it intends to be.
This is where someone with Hargrave’s background really shines. He’s making his directorial debut after collaborating with Joe and Anthony Russo on Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Endgame, where he was the stunt coordinator. In fact, the Russos are producers and screenwriters on Extraction as well, making it quite the little MCU reunion, with Thor also present in the cast and as a producer. The film is actually an adaptation of a graphic novel called Ciudad, on which the Russos comprise 40 percent of the creative team.
It’s possible that the missing ingredient here is someone like Kevin Feige, the renowned Marvel producer, who can find a perfect alchemy of ingredients to create entertainments that truly stick with audiences. Extraction, on the other hand, goes in one ear and out the other. It leaves little impression other than an excessive quantity of violence and worn-out tropes about the mercenary with the scarred past. (Hemsworth’s Tyler had a young son who died of cancer, causing him to check out and devalue his own life.)
The narrative feels more like unconvincing connective tissue between action scenes. A prime example is the mid-movie moment when Hargrave et al recognise the need to slow down for ten to fifteen minutes, and perhaps the best way to do that is with a familiar face – in this case, David Harbour, star of one of Netflix’s most successful properties, Stranger Things. His is, indeed, an enjoyable face. His function in the story, though – an apparent friendly face who is not quite what he appears – is just as tired as our exhausted heroes. That this scene could lift out of the story without affecting what comes before or after is an example of the way the filmmakers are trying to cobble together bits and pieces into something cohesive.
Another familiar face is Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani, whose recent credits include Paterson and the most recent Pirates of the Caribbean movie. She similarly feels sidelined, though, as an ally to Tyler who mostly appears on the other end of a walkie talkie.
Netflix is sometimes accused of giving filmmakers unlimited leeway because they want them to produce more, rather than less, content. The gargantuan length of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is one example; another is the possibly apocryphal story of the producers who approached Netflix with an eight-part series, and Netflix asked if they could make it ten. Even if Extraction is not excessively long in its own right – 117 minutes, but that includes more than ten minutes of credits – it feels longer given how little is actually there.