Long before he became the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s go-to stunt guy, moving up in the franchise ranks from Chris Evans’ stunt double to serving as the primary stunt coordinator on such massive outings as “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame,” Sam Hargrave wanted to be a director. Hargrave’s first feature, the gritty Chris Hemsworth-starring action outing “Extraction,” hits Netflix this week, and he’s celebrating in understandable style: quarantining on the Southern California coast with his girlfriend and dog and considering his unlikely career path.
“Extraction,” written by his MCU compatriot Joe Russo (who also produced it alongside his brother Anthony and star Chris Hemsworth), is a smart fit for Hargrave: filled with bone-crunching action (no, really, turn on those captions and see how many “[bone crunches]” pop up), a vibrant location, and a frenetic 12-minute “single take” that left his own stars breathless (more on that to come). It’s also the kind of movie that audiences still like, even if the studios (including Marvel’s home, Disney) aren’t so interested in making them.
Shot on location in both India and Bangladesh, Hemsworth stars in the film as a mercenary who is hired to rescue the kidnapped son of a big-time drug lord. “Extraction” zips and zags from massive action set piece to massive action set piece, but unlike Hargrave’s best known work, it’s also an original feature that isn’t beholden to the demands of an overarching franchise framework. That’s become increasingly rare.
“Netflix offered a platform for a movie of the size and budget to exist,” Hargrave told IndieWire during a recent interview. “Movies like this, kind of the mid-range budget action movies with an R rating, it’s hard for them to find a home in the theatrical landscape. To get something that’s not a big franchise with an existing idea that people know or a character that people are going to automatically flock to see, it’s risky. It’s a risky business.”
As a youngster, Hargrave was big into action movies (watching) and martial arts (doing), which eventually led to an enduring affection for both Jackie Chan and Hong Kong cinema. Chan’s work is what inspired Hargrave to attend film school in the first place, where he dreamed of learning how to “do everything: write it, direct it, act in it, do stunts in it,” just like his cinematic hero.
At UNC Chapel Hill, Hargrave learned how to do just that, eventually directing five short films, all of which he also wrote or co-wrote, most of which he edited, and a few of which he served as sound editor or cinematographer on. But Hargrave was also proficient at something else: as one of his friends observed while at school, he was “pretty good at falling on his head,” suggesting that Hargrave enter Hollywood (and the “directing thing”) by working as a stuntman.
It made sense. As a kid, Hargrave also loved Westerns, from Sergio Leone spaghettis to serials like “The Lone Ranger” and “Zorro.” Hargrave didn’t just like to watch, however, he and his little brother would recreate stunts and film them on their family’s camcorder. Their derring-do got so intense, Hargrave said, that his mother would attempt to edit out bigger action sequences, recording Hargrave’s favorite shows and then toggling between a pair of VCRs to snip out the really scary stuff. It didn’t necessarily work, but Hargrave did get a career out of it.
Still, after nearly a decade with Marvel, plus stints coordinating stunts for other massive Hollywood films like “Atomic Blonde,” “The Accountant,” and “The Hunger Games” series, Hargrave had not lost sight of his filmmaking desires. And they were well-known to his friends, including MCU directors Joe and Anthony Russo and Thor himself.
Joe Russo first approached Hargrave on the set of “Avengers: Infinity War” with the script for what would become “Extraction.” Hargrave was familiar with it — he had read a previous iteration when it was titled “Ciudad,” was set in South America, and was even being explored as a directing gig for another stuntman-turned-director, Hargrave’s friend Chad Stahelski — but Russo had something new for him. The action had been moved to Dhaka, Bangladesh, and for a guy like Hargrave, who grew up loving films from all over the world, that setting was too intriguing to overlook.
It also reminded him of the other stunt-heavy outings he loved as a kid, including the work of Michael Mann, Steven Spielberg, and James Cameron, action kings who have also been able to capture success in both franchise and non-franchise features. “It reminded me of those movies,” Hargrave said. “It had the reality and the feel of ‘Heat’ or a Cameron or Spielberg movie, in terms of those big action set pieces. It was a little more violent than some of those films, but it did have this very strong, silent type hero, but with a depth to him. It was a muscular action movie, but at its core, it was a heartfelt tale about redemption.”
He’s not kidding about the feature being “a little more violent” than some of his perennial favorites and the kind of films he’s worked on for most of his career. “Extraction” is the sort of film where Hemsworth, starring as a hardened mercenary named Tyler Rake, actually puts a man’s face through a rake. That’s just in the first act.
“Maybe it’s just repressed from having the restrictions of working in the PG, PG-13 world of Marvel,” Hargrave said with a laugh. “When you’re given a movie that opens the door to a whole new way of looking at action, a new way of telling the story, it’s very enticing. And we wanted to be true to the DNA of the film, which was a very hard, raw, open look at violence in this world of black market contractors and drug lords. We didn’t want to pull punches, and I think that if we had done that, it might have been a disservice to that world and the story.“
And, like films like “Heat” or “True Lies,” two Hargrave favorites, it does not exist to create a new franchise. “I think that’s one that you don’t really see a lot nowadays,” he said. “Having been a part of so many large franchises, what was cool about this movie is it was an original story that stood alone. I never thought about it as a franchise-able thing. So much content these days is either a sequel or a comic book movie based on previous IP, so to have an original story like this is very unique and it was part of the draw for me.”
The film also makes a point to show other perspectives beyond just Tyler or his young charge (Rudhraksh Jaiswal, who stars as the kidnapped Ovi), resisting a “good versus evil” storyline that can sometimes dominate big budget Hollywood fare. “So much of the time, there’s violence portrayed in movies where, I don’t want to say you become numb to it or don’t really appreciate it, but you’ve got a good guy who’s shooting a bunch of guys, and it’s the good guys versus the bad guys,” he said. “The good guys shoot the bad guys! They fall, we cheer, and we just keep going. You don’t really think about it.”
Hargrave falls on the side of good guys. While “Extraction” is the product of a multi-billion dollar corporation and bonds forged while making a multi-billion dollar franchise, it’s also the result of a childhood dream, helped along by people who are eager to help foster the next generation. The Russos, mentored by Steven Soderbergh in their own early years, have always set out to help up-and-comers who, like themselves, might have taken a different kind of path to meet their ambitions.
“I can’t say enough good things, they’re just kind, thoughtful, caring people and they really do want to help upcoming filmmakers, and that’s something that’s important to me in the business,” Hargrave said. “None of us got to the places we’re at by ourselves, there are always people along the way who helped us and inspired us and took a chance on us.“
“Extraction” starts streaming on Netflix on Friday, April 24.