- Directed by Sam Hargrave
- Written by Joe Russo
- Starring Chris Hemsworth, Rudhraksh Jaiswal and David Harbour
- Classification R; 116 minutes
Is the film world ready for another protracted conversation about the one-shot phenomenon? I thought that we settled the debate about the cinematic trick around the time that Sam Mendes’s First World War thriller 1917 opened this past Christmas. But because everyone is currently trapped inside and likely sick of talking about the reason why … sure, let’s discuss the merits and deficits of filmmakers falling in love with the real-time conceit, in which an extended scene – or sometimes an entire film – is constructed to look like one single continuous take. We’ve got the (unbroken, unedited) time.
Typically, I fall on the side of the gimmick being effective, but inherently goofy. Rarely is there dramatic justification for filmmakers showing off this particular feat and often the result leaves audiences playing a guessing game of Spot the Cut – an annoying distraction that does the opposite of what a great film can do; it pulls you out, rather than in. (Hello, Birdman.) But I’ll also admit to being a sucker for Extraction, Netflix’s new bid for one-shot one-upmanship.
The feature debut of long-time stuntman Sam Hargrave, Extraction at first seems self-generated from a whack of Netflix search keywords: “mercenary,” “kidnapped,” “drug lord,” “David Harbour,” “Chris Hemsworth,” “Chris Hemsworth shirtless," “Chris Hemsworth Australian accent,” etc. Much of the film is impressively unimpressive – any fan of men-on-a-mission action movies will know the character beats, plot twists and exactly when Hemsworth’s black-ops bad-ass is going to develop paternal feelings for his kidnapped teenage charge (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) as they tear up the streets of Dhaka, on the run from a Bangladeshi drug lord.
But then, about 35 minutes in, Hargrave breaks out a one-shot action sequence of such astounding variety and carnage that the entire project is, briefly, elevated to a level of riveting high-low art. Running approximately 11 minutes and involving a destructive car chase, a rampage through an apartment building, several rooftop jumps, a street-level knife fight and then another car chase, the sequence is bold, bloody fun.
Most importantly, it compliments the whiz-bang-what-the-hell thrills Hargrave and his team are hoping to generate. Rather than Hargrave kicking you out of his picture to wonder how the hell he pulled this scene off, the director grabs you by the throat, pulling you further into the enjoyably exhausting chaos. There is zero pretension about employing the tactic, and it works just as well as Hargrave’s one-shot stunt co-ordination on Atomic Blonde.
Once that sequence is over – and once Hemsworth’s hero has destroyed half of Dhaka and murdered about three-dozen of Bangladesh’s finest on-the-take cops – the film settles back into its no-nonsense, background-noise groove. Albeit with a squishy taste for gore that Hargrave never seems to fully quench. Surely, the body count here ratchets up into John Wick territory, yet without that franchise’s sense of self-aware silliness.
The film gets a few more bonus points for setting the mess in Dhaka, a fascinating metropolis rarely glimpsed in these kind of big-budget Hollywood thrillers. So many of these films plunk themselves in Mexico or some distant-sounding South American locale and call it a day – which was exactly the case with the film’s source material, a graphic novel called Ciudad that took place in the Paraguayan town of Ciudad del Este. For their adaptation, Ciudad co-writers and siblings Joe and Anthony Russo neatly switch gears, and even attempt to get a real sense of Dhaka’s geography. Rest assured that Bangladesh is still presented as a wildly colourful opportunity to indulge in all manner of cliché, but at least it’s a different sort of cliché than what we’re used to seeing from the genre.
And points to Hemsworth, too, for taking Joe Russo’s ultrameaty dialogue – the writer is badly in need of whichever script doctors he used to punch up his work on the Captain America and Avengers films – and treating it like it deserves an ounce of respect. Which it certainly does not.
Add it all up, and Extraction’s many creative solutions to reinvigorating the genre nearly balance out its many generic genre problems. So, it’s good enough to take a shot on, especially after a stressful day of isolated modern life. But just one shot.
Extraction is available to stream on Netflix starting April 24
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