Well Dang, Netflix
Netflix isn't messing around with this batch of originals coming out in the last couple years. They've been turning them out at a rate that even Disney could respect, and doing so with a good chunk of the production value.
Extraction is an old fashion roller coaster of an action movie. You clicked on it to see some crazy stuff, and it plans to deliver. But does it?
Well, at the very least, there is one chunk of the movie that does.
Them 12 Minutes
A dozen minutes is how long the big action sequences is without a visible cut. 12 whole minutes.
That ain't easy. And it's not something you'd expect to find nestled in a Netflix release in which the only press I can remember seeing was on my 'recommended' page. What compounds the complexity of this feat are the pure number of vehicles that were involved in this marathon of violent scenery.
Sam Hargrave, the Director, accomplished this the way any sensible person would. He donned a helmet and vest that allowed him to be strapped to the hood or trunk of several various vehicles so that he could be careened around the set, with a camera in hand, at high speeds and around harrowing corners. While the gimbal head did the work of keeping the camera balanced, Sam's position on top of speeding vehicles was secured solely by a few safety lines and undoubtedly steadied by his massive fucking balls.
As if that wasn't enough, parts of the scene even require the camera to jump off of a moving car entirely to dive into yet another one. Holy shit. Follow that up with actors dumping out of cars, choreographing vehicles entering and exiting the scene as needed, extras and doubles hitting their marks for the gunfights and fistfights, etc. What is created is an entire Rube Goldberg machine of ass-kicking. The number of intricate pieces to make this work were executed to masterfully that I'm pretty sure Q Anon would claim the CIA was involved. And that drama! The camera will often place itself between the two subjects of any given segment, like you're a passenger looking between them in the moment and seeing what their expressions are meant to communication to one another. Your eye follows the big action, then pulls back suddenly to show the next big movement that would have been in your peripheral. It feels very biological, as if you're noticing things in the moment the way a human eye naturally would.
Speaking of biological, by the end you feel that fatigue. The fight at the end shows the actors absolutely winded and ragged. They've been all out for over 10 minutes at that point in the shot and it conveys on screen with the makeup and the fight direction.
It still blows my mind that so much forethought and attention could have gone into the little things of a scene that was shot not only at game-speed, but on foot or in the midst of several rolling cars! During filming, our intrepid director supposedly only narrowly avoided death when he played some emergency Frogger to remove his braincase from the splatterpath of the vehicle Chris Hemsworth had been driving. Just a another day at the office?
I'm a cinematography fan in movies above all other elements. Visual storytelling is what I love about great films. Thus, you can imagine why this scene is like a holiday for me. Even if you don't watch the movie, just take a spin through minutes 34:00-46:00. It'd be like skipping Thanksgiving meal, but you're walking out with the turkey leg you came for in the first place.
Yeah, you aren’t watching this for the plot. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t have any or that the plot is bad; the plot is competent and the dialogue writer is pretty clever. It is, however, somewhat cliché. But this is an action flick classic; naïve rescued co-star dragged around a city infested with enemies by a grizzled and talented-yet-haunted old snake-eater who “just needs the money,” but ends up finding his heart. Same basic plot as the Dad who didn't want to get a dog but ends up Fido's best friend.
I think the story is done quite a lot of favors in translation from page to screen by the cast. The actors in this movie are all obviously talented. David Harbour's time on screen especially showed some good contrast, considering he probably has the most time spent with his pulse under 100bpm. He likely has the best opportunity to show that this wasn't a budget some Netflix film in which they hoped throwing cool effects and a big name into would yield streams. With David and Randeep's characters both, there is a level of ambiguity to the writing where you're not really given many explicit expositions about their backgrounds or motives. As there should be with undercover and clandestine folks, there is a buffer of mystery that you, the audience member, can fill in with whichever mystique you want. That plays well.
The rest is choreography.
The Choreography and Cinematography
What you’re here for is haymakers and machine guns. Yeah, you’ll get that.
From the get-go I found myself making notes about the fight scenes. They do have some small tropes, most notably being the whole “let’s wait to attack him one at a time” strategy nameless bad guys seem to take. But the ‘finisher’ moves were actually gruesome and read as very effective while watching. I do roll my eyes at an action movie in which a hero can land some weak, scripted punch and the assailant does four backflips before falling straight unconscious like a starfish. In Extraction, dudes aren’t put down unless they take two or three rounds to the neck, have their head crushed between an oak table and a countertop, or have their skull rudely invaded by a garden rake. When someone is incapacitated in this movie, it’s certainly no mystery to the audience how they got that way.
Sam is a name you should remember. You’ve likely seen his other large venture in direction, The Mandalorian. However, he’s a career stuntman and stunt coordinator. Other titles under his (black) belt in on-screen ass-kicking include the Avengers movies, The Accountant, The Hunger Games, Deadpool, The Lone Ranger, The Mechanic, a couple X Men movies, and the list goes on. Getting punched in style is the man’s whole deal.
The movie makes you feel the impact of every shot and knee to the kidney. There are some really great direction details that help make that happen.
How the cameraman is treated and allowed to work is really the blood of this movie as I see it. With long scenes of pure violence or chase, the framing is really one of the largest narrative elements of this whole affair.
A note that I made about halfway through the movie was that the camera never stops movies. B-roll and establishing shots included. There’s always a slow pan or zoom, or some rack focus to keep your attention spinning to the next thing. There’s some sort of movement so that you don’t let that guard down in feeling like you can sit still. As I mentioned before, the camera make you feel the impacts, and it does this by actually jolting during some of the harder hits. There is a different weight to a quick punch than a wound-up kick, and that translates visually, literally.
It’s not until you get a lull at a safehouse that the camera starts to steady up. Conversations take on that familiar interview angle, but even then it’s not standard. There isn’t much in the way of any over-the-shoulder shot, at least not for a long time. The angles are close up, and they switch as each character speaks. And they speak with some sort of intensity. Be it worried, or angry, or just drunk, even the still shots are up in their face and as a result the actor is getting right back in yours.
Likewise, the frame just got filled with SO much. Fighting on the crowded streets of Dhaka saw the characters constantly interrupted by pedestrians, mopeds, and cars. Even fights with Chris against just one other guy saw the frame come in real close and fill every pixel with as much movement and choreography as possible.
That’s probably the thing that excites me most about this movie. Through complicated sequences and fast bouts of events and fights, you know exactly what’s going on. The camera itself is a turbo competent storyteller. One could damn near enjoy the movie just as much with the volume off and a motorhead song playing in the background. Actually, I may try that...
Well, it is the movies, after all.
Gun accuracy isn’t something I think they were going for with this one. Frag grenades throw flame and sparks. Someone shoots a line of cars with a PKM and they all explode like they ran on tannerite instead of gas. The first time the trigger is pulled in the movie it’s a Browning Hi-Power and the magazine is removed. I guess even slumlords know that disabling the magazine safety is Hi-Power 101. There are a number of what I assume are fake AK’s getting fired with the safety engaged.
The optics struck me oddly in this movie as well. Saju’s UMP is topped with a Trijicon RX30, which is a pretty dated reflex sight for a movie in 2020. Which is whatever, perhaps if all the other optics were of the same era to reflect the regional availability? But then Chris’s character ends the movie by shooting what looks like a Daniel Defense topped with a Leupold D-Evo. Seems pretty opposite in taste compared to Saju's gun, but perhaps that was purposeful to show a contrast between them?
Considering he starts the movie with what looks to be an 11” BCM and an EXPS-3 & G33 combo, why the swap? Where’d the other very American rifle come from in a sea of Chinese milled AK’s? One kid is even rocking an old SMLE like WW1 was still raging. That was pretty cool, honestly. A callback to when India helped ol' Britain bring home the victory.
The big bad sniper at the end of the movie even has an oddball rifle. It’s not some crazy bolt gun or intimidating gas gun like a PSG-1. It’s an HK SL8? A civilian marketed G36 adaptation that shoots 5.56x45mm NATO. The counter-sniper that takes them out uses a SCAR 17S with an LPVO, which makes a hell of a lot more sense in my mind. Perhaps HK really had an idea for them to use some of their lesser known guns, but the old Germans have plenty of other more sensible precision guns that could have fit the bill.
The gunplay itself is pretty good, however. Chris’s Glock gets as much play as his BCM/DD. Considering how much of the action is at what would be called Extreme Close Quarters Combat in the real world, the copious transitions from long gun to side arm served not only to bring you closer to the visceral action, but also just straight showed off the practice Chris had to put in to that draw and choreography. He looked smooth doing it. There's a pretty cool part where he swaps a mag and racks the slide off the plate carrier of a guy he just shot twice in the neck before burying in a third round.
This note ain't guns, but I was a medic, and I really enjoyed that whoever wrote this script put in a part where the main character accurately describes how to use an Israeli bandage to the kid that he’s rescuing. Neat.
Some other tidbits, gripes and thoughts.
Saju felt pretty ancillary through most of the movie until the end where the twist alliance is formed. I suppose there could have been a better way to write that. His action scenes were probably the best. I suppose I would have liked it if he remained an adversary throughout.
The way Tyler Rake (the main character) talks to Ovi throughout the movie is pretty fun and really shows that gap between Tyler’s experience and Ovi’s innocence. Tyler tells Ovi to jump on 3 in one scene. After counting to 1 Tyler just throws the boy so he can’t hesitate. Likewise when Ovi exclaims that Tyler just hit someone with a car, he just replies, “yeah.” Cool.
The Farhad B plot was written better than most of the main plot. I really felt the anger and revenge that kid wanted. And he got to have his shot in the end and live. He was a mean little snot but oddly I was rooting for him the whole time. That kid’s gonna make it.
Whoever did costume design decided Chris’s character should wear elbow pads. In my experience, no one wears elbow pads. It’s such an unimportant detail but I had to wear them in Basic Training and was told they were mandatory protective items, but then when I got with some units I found that no one gave two shits about them, so that just stuck with me. They're just, like, really uncomfortable. I know this gripe is meaningless, but I am admitting it's just a gripe.
The beginning underwater scene and the callback at the end were clever. I almost missed it, glad I didn’t.
It’s a roller coaster ride. If you like roller coasters, it’s going to be one of your favorite roller coasters. And I don’t mean that in the Scorsese underhanded way, I mean that in high regards since this movie has such a mastery of momentum - a concept that is paramount to roller coaster design.
I place a high value in competence and this movie is chalked full of it. The sets are stellar, the choreography is stellar, the cinematography is stellar. If you can watch this flick without getting tense in your chair at least once then you’re probably living some sort of Terry Schaivo situation. But if you’re here in the land of the living and warm-blooded, this movie is a guarantee to ball your fists at least once.
If you’re a turbo gun dude, you’ll see some interesting stuff in here but it’s not the focus like John Wick. The smelling-distance pistol play is better than I can remember seeing before, though.
It’s a must watch. And it’s on Netflix. Did I mention that yet? It’s a fucking Netflix original. I know the running joke is that they will greenlight anything but couple this with Triple Frontier, Close, and other tactical in-house productions, the site is making a real run at taking the action monopoly away from Hollywood.
Extraction, watch it. You’ll be bummed you didn’t.