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Extraction movie review: Chris Hemsworth's Netflix film

Sam Hargrave's action thriller Extraction has just the right kind of linguistic and geographical fluidity that Netflix was invented for.

Mostly set in Mumbai, India and Dhaka, Bangladesh, it never goes the Hollywood way of making slum dwellers and crime lords speak fluently in English (that too, in a stereotypical thick Indian accent). Instead, Extraction uses the crutch of subtitles to root the film in the South Asian milieu so much so that the antagonist, Bangladesh drug lord Amir Asif (Priyanshu Painyuli), never speaks a word beyond in Bengali. Similarly, his Indian counterpart, played by Pankaj Tripathi, sticks to only Hindi in the one scene he has throughout the film. Other satellite characters like the Mumbai cops and Bangladeshi criminals also mouth dialogues in their respective languages.

Language: English, Hindi and Bengali

A black-market mercenary who has nothing to lose is hired to rescue the kidnapped son of an imprisoned international crime lord. But in the murky underworld of weapons dealers and drug traffickers, an already deadly mission approaches the impossible.
Initial release: 24 April 2020
Director: Sam Hargrave
Language: English
Producers: Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Russo

Given this refreshing technical change in the syntax of a 'summer blockbuster'-style movie, Extraction never ceases to feel like a highly stylised, hugely mounted action entertainer with a universal appeal. Besides the protagonist Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) and his partner-in-crime Nik Khan (Golshifteh Farahani), supporting characters Ovi Mahajan (Rudraksh Jaiswal) and Saju (Randeep Hooda) also speak mostly in English, underlining the global realities of today.

Having said that, the film is anything but verbose. Its dominant language is that of explosive action at neck-breaking speed, ranging from bazuka guns and car chases to hand combats and PUBG-style gun warfare.

Hargrave, who has made his directorial debut with Extraction, is a seasoned stunt coordinator, having worked in blockbusters like the Avengers franchise and The Hunger Games series. But here, though Avengers director Joe Russo has written the screenplay, and Russo Brothers have produced the film, the action is mounted well but never backed by an emotion, as was the case in their previous work.

Joe has adapted the screenplay from Ande Parks' book Ciudad, which translates to 'city' in English. This is probably why the film was tentatively titled Dhaka before it was changed to Extraction. The move seems to have worked in the favour since the word 'extraction' integrates with the narrative of the film at various levels. Literally, it refers to Tyler's mission to rescue (or extract) Mahajan's son Ovi from Dhaka, where he has been kidnapped by Amir's men. He is the member of a mercenary agency, led by Nik.

At a subliminal level, 'extraction' is the solution to the 'escapism' Tyler finds himself perpetually subjected to. He is the kind of man one has seen on screen countless times — tough exterior, willing to take life-threatening risks as a self-defense mechanism to past trauma. Since he spends most of the time with a boy in this film, he naturally has 'son issues' from some time ago. He develops a bond with Ovi, who, in turn, pushes Tyler to forgive himself. "Your name is Tyler (Durden). You look more like a Brad (Pitt)," he says, in a fairly witty reference to David Fincher's 1999 cult action film Fight Club.

But one wishes Joe Russo could have gone deeper with the inherent conflicts of both the characters rather than project it with cliched dialogues and done-to-death (pun intended) devices like taking a deep plunge into water and reemerging to 'rise above' your pain. Had these two characters been given more meat, one would have overlooked the manner in which other supporting characters are compromised. Randeep brings his A-game to the action sequences in the film, locking horns with Hemsworth. But a sub-plot involving his family feels too weak and worn out. Similarly, the history of the longstanding feud between the Indian and Bangladeshi drug lords is not even explained, which leaves both Painyuli and Tripathi under-utilised.

Had the writing given them more scope to perform rather than spewing dialogues in their native tongue, Extraction could have truly emerged as a fine cross-cultural marriage of say, Michael Bay and Anurag Kashyap. Rounding up a hugely talented Indian ensemble only to not make the most of them is an error in judgement on part of casting director Sarah Finn.

Chris Hemsworth in a still from Extraction

Extraction is as sound as a major Hollywood blockbuster in technical terms. The size of the screen does not make a huge difference here. Newton Thomas Sigel optimally uses his skills to stage a film high on chases and action. His drone shots over Dhaka show a city as cramped as Tyler's head with skies as crimson as the constant blood gushing out of his wounds. Sigel uses several tracking shots to complement Ruthie Aslan and Peter B Ellis' pacey editing. Philip Ivey's production design and Bojana Nikitovic's costume design accentuate cultural nuances but not to a point they come across as enforcement of stereotypes.

On the surface, Extraction is a global pool of faces, sounds, and aesthetics. But as it progresses and eventually dissolves into thin air, it misses the point that representation comes in all forms. This includes assuring that every character gets a voice, and every actor a chance to make themselves heard.

Extraction is streaming on Netflix.

Rating: ***