Saturday, May 30, 2020

Extraction: Review

Sometimes the smallest detail can trip up your experience of a movie. Forty minutes into Extraction, Tyler (Chris Hemsworth) and Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) are dodging gunmen in a Dhaka building. They break into an apartment, and the famous intro to "Didi Tera Dewar Deewana" plays. They alight a floor, 10 seconds pass. Then, from another apartment, we hear snatches of "Mehndi Laga Ke Rakhna". What are the chances that two instantly recognisable songs from two of the most famous Hindi films of the '90s are playing at the same time in present-day Dhaka? If this were set in the US, an equivalent scene would be Tyler rushing past one apartment as Rick says “Here’s looking at you, kid" and another as Kane says “Rosebud". Not impossible, but unlikely.

Sam Hargrave’s film starts in earnest in Mumbai, with the kidnapping of teenager Ovi, whose father (Pankaj Tripathi, sadly just the one scene) is India’s biggest drug lord. The abductor is, naturally, Bangladesh’s biggest drug lord, Amir (Priyanshu Painyuli). Tyler – ex-Aussie military, now a mercenary – and his team are called in to do an “extraction": find the boy, get him out, get paid. Also in Dhaka is Saju (Randeep Hooda), sent down by Ovi’s father to oversee the rescue, but with plans of his own on how to achieve this.

Tyler does get Ovi out, but his escape from Dhaka is ruined by Saju’s double-cross and the local police closing all exits at the behest of Amir. The film's big setpiece is a very long one-take sequence in which Tyler kills his way from the streets into a building and out again, a terrified Ovi boy tagging behind. No-cut extended action is no longer a novelty for moviegoers, but it’s still an impressive trick if handled with some wit and variation. Tyler’s bloody progress, though impressively choreographed, becomes somewhat monotonous – he moves and executes his kills like a soldier, all precision and no personality.

Its action may not spark much joy but when Extraction settles down for a quiet moment, that’s when you’re in real trouble. Not content with giving Tyler a formulaic tough guy backstory – his life falls apart after his six-year-old dies of cancer – the film also makes rich, unhappy Ovi, unloved by his own dad, the perfect candidate for a father figure. “He thinks of me…more like a thing than a person," he says, unburdening to a complete stranger who just killed several dozen people and hit the one person he knows with a truck. Later, Ovi tells Tyler, “You drown not by falling into the river but by staying submerged in it", because that’s how Hollywood thinks 14-year-olds in India talk.

Extraction is written by Joe Russo, and is produced and based on a story by him and his brother, Anthony, co-directors of four Marvel films. The source material, a graphic novel, is set in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay – the film simply swaps one third world country for another, as American movies tend to do. It’s disappointing that the Russos, coming off the success of the last two Avengers films, would choose to put their weight behind yet another attempt to turn white protagonists going on a killing spree in foreign lands into some form of soul-searching. Tyler is treated like a gentle soul in torment, despite his frequent reminders that he is a killer for hire.

The film doesn’t have any interest in Dhaka – it could be any dirty, corrupt city where Bangla (and some Hindi) is spoken. The one local character of note – Amir – is translated for Western audiences as the Pablo Escobar of his city. Extraction is by no means a realistic film, but it is set in the real world, which means the Russos can’t fall back on comic mythos or easy utopias like Wakanda to explain its blinkered politics. If you’re looking for a palette cleanser after this, I’d recommend the 2019 Brazilian film Bacurau. Its white characters, also gathered in a poor country with the express purpose of killing its citizens, probably think of themselves as heroes too.

This review appeared in Mint.

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