WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Extraction, now streaming on Netflix.
Netflix’s Extraction, much like the Oni Press comic it’s adapted from, deals mainly with Tyler Rake as he tries to rescue young Ovi from a Bangladesh gangster, Amir. However, one of the key changes made from the source material is that Ovi’s caretaker, Saju, actually has a bigger part to play in the mission to bring the boy back to India.
In fact, Saju’s given a lot more agency here, and while he’s initially painted as an antagonist, he turns out to be one of the film’s biggest heroes. And in retrospect, looking at the relationship he actually had with the boy, Extraction focused on the wrong protagonist, resulting in a story that’s more style than substance.
In the comic, Saju was Edu, a South American soldier with a legion who had to screw over Tyler to get the target (in that case, a girl named Eva), back to Brazil and away from Paraguayan gangsters. Edu was nothing more than a hired gun whom Eva’s father, Roche, used once Tyler did all the heavy lifting. Roche didn’t have enough money to pay Tyler, so Edu was set to finish the extraction for a smaller fee. In the film, Saju follows a somewhat similar path, as Ovi’s dad can’t afford the full fee, so he takes out Tyler’s team and attempts to bring Ovi back home himself.
However, there’s a lot more depth to Saju because he was Ovi’s father-figure when the dad went into a Mumbai prison years prior. They bonded and Ovi actually felt like part of Saju’s family. What makes their relationship so meaningful is Saju, a former special-ops officer, was then placed in a tough situation because if he doesn’t bring Ovi back and betray Tyler (someone Ovi’s dad and Saju himself hired), Saju’s own family would be killed by Ovi’s father. That’s a powerful dynamic because it shows Ovi’s dad is ungrateful and also blurs the line over the movie’s true villain.
This adds so much depth to Saju’s role as well, as he sold out to serve Ovi’s dad, someone who became his mentor in the seedy underworld. So by focusing on this arc, we’d have gotten more about Saju’s past, why he apparently fell from grace and veered to the dark side, and how he’s grappling with the Ovi family dynamic. He wants to save the kid, as he loves him like a son, but he also knows the father is a tyrant. Saju is between a rock and a hard place, and the moment he tells Tyler this, the film should have shifted towards him or at least crafted a team-up.
Instead, the movie still focuses on Tyler as he separates from the duo to buy time, and when we do get back to Saju, he gets gunned down protecting Ovi. It wastes the character with the better story, because to Tyler, Ovi’s just a meal ticket and a package to get back to India. Sure, Tyler connects with the kid on a human level, but the film should have led with the person who had meaning to Ovi from the start, his surrogate dad. It’s a shame because Saju doesn’t get closure with Ovi, his wife and kid back home are forgotten, and he’s just there for an epic action scene on Dhaka’s bridge to clear out Amir’s men.
The film botches such a nuanced arc, and with Tyler seemingly dead, it would have been profound to let Saju take the boy home and officially adopt him. Having Saju take Ovi’s dad out would also have kept them all safe, as Ovi admitted his dad was just as bad as Amir. This would have further explored the theme of family not necessarily being blood, but those who selflessly care for you, rather than just looking at Tyler, a contract killer who gains redemption for ignoring his sick son by saving Ovi. Pivoting the focus to Saju would have elevated Ovi as something more than just a bargaining chip in another white savior story. While Extraction banked on Chris Hemsworth’s star power, the choice to keep the focus on his character leaves the movie feeling superficial and cosmetic.
Directed by Sam Hargrave and written by Joe Russo, Extraction stars Chris Hemsworth, Rudhraksh Jaiswal, Manoj Bajpayee, Randeep Hooda, Pankaj Tripathi, Derek Luke, Marc Donato and David Harbour. It is currently available on Netflix.
Netflix's Extraction opts for more style than substance, focusing on the wrong hero trying to save a boy involved in an India-Bangladesh gang war.