An action movie from a different era: the mid-2000s, when made-up perspiration on actors was essential, the color grade made everything look like dirt, and Evil Drug Lords reigned supreme. EXTRACTION is unusual because of how good it is, relatively speaking. It’s directed with patience and attention to character, scripted with slavish adherence to formula (and the formula works), and it has got the most colossal action lead since Schwarzenegger. I think the movie would have been a smash—in the mid-to-late 2000s. As it stands, the frenetic shoot-em-up EXTRACTION has been made basically irrelevant by the convincing graphics of the modern Call of Duty games. Why watch a supersoldier mow down mobs of brown people when you can play as one?
I’ll get this out of the way first. The movie has a 12-minute-long “oner”; that is, a seemingly unbroken take which glides us from a racing sedan through an apartment complex and out of a moving truck without any cuts. It’s kind of exciting, and a lie; you’ll find it’s really just a bunch of 20-second shots stitched together by whip pans and CG. The monstrosity really only serves to remind you none of this is real—achieving the exact opposite of its intention—and that there’s an exhausted, put-upon camera operator trying their best to keep up with the preternatural Chris Hemsworth. I’d say the whole experiment is frivolous, but EXTRACTION is designed to be as showstopping as possible, which makes the in-between, “breather” moments—Hemsworth carrying out the necessary evil of walking from point A to point B and waiting patiently for the stuntmen to jump out and hit their cues— all the more uncomfortable.
Ridiculous hands. Why are they so big?
You’re familiar with the pitch: hardened badass is tasked with protecting a kid and gradually learns that humans are people after all. No need to mention anything else, since the drug lord stuff is absurdly vague. It’s strange to see a movie so comfortable with images of brown children being thrown from rooftops and severing their own fingers not once provide an anchor point by which to understand the kids’ deaths, or the power of the movie’s Heavy. We see the kingpin Asif ordering his goons around and intimidating the local peasant children, but because the drugs evade view or mention, we can’t identify why he came to this position of power. This is the script’s and Hargrave’s fatal shortcoming. Individuals are doomed into their roles, without really even knowing them, or how they were thrust into such circumstances. Always be suspicious of a film that treats characters like tokens—chances are it thinks you’re one too.
A screengrab from the “oner.” See if you can spot the cut…
Priyanshu Painyuli imbues Asif with a malignant screen presence; he’s good. Also strong is the young star Rudhraksh Jaiswal as Ovi, whose tremulant pupils skim cleverly off Hemsworth’s chalk visage. It doesn’t need to be said that Hemsworth is gargantuan in the role—spitting, sweating, bleeding like his life genuinely is in danger. I mean, this is a very compelling performance. He even manages to squeeze some charm into the character.
Returning to the “oner,” since I find the discourse around it fascinating. I don’t agree with the idea of a long take as immersive or necessarily helpful toward a sense of tension. Hitchcock realized this while he was making his most notable failure, ROPE. The function of a long take is not to impress your audience or invite them into the world of the film, but to distance them, to draw attention to the film’s construction as a series of still photographs perfectly staged, rehearsed, and calibrated. When we feel a sense of being in a film is precisely when the director should pull the rug out from under us lest we conceive of ourselves as occupying the same fantasy realm of the film. EXTRACTION’s 12-minute tour de force wants you to be right there with the characters, and it’s at those moments that it becomes a video game. When you do your utmost, literally spend millions of dollars on shutting down streets, choreographing visceral stunt work and frenzied explosions with the goal of making your movie not a movie, you’ll end up with not-a-movie. It’s that simple.