If someone told me that the cinematic trend kicked off by Liam Neeson in which a middle-aged gentleman with a certain set of skills has a movie built around a singular quest for vengeance would one day he picked up by the likes of Bob Odenkirk, aka the sentient milking machine from Mr. Show, I’d have laughed in disbelief. Yet here I am, having watched Nobody twice, cheesing my dumb face-off with the knowledge that of all the actors to have pulled this stunt, Odenkirk did it best.
I am not including John Wick in this assessment because Keanu Reeves is still 27 years old, where he will remain in perpetuity until we all shuffle off this mortal coil without him.
In Nobody, Odenkirk plays Hutch Mansell, a family man whose heyday is way behind him. He’s responsibly meek, but his role is that of many men in his position: to carry the burden of the world on his shoulders and do his best to provide without making waves. It’s why dads never seem to be happy while on vacation. They don’t really get one.
One night, in the midst of his repetitive, bland existence, Hutch’s home falls victim to a break-in. A duo of intruders, one of whom has a gun, busts in looking for valuables. The joke is on them, as all the Mansell’s have that’s worth stealing is a small amount of cash. Somehow, Hutch manages to get the drop on the intruders, but opts not to attack, choosing instead to minimize damage and let them leave. It’s the responsible move, but it has Hutch feeling completely emasculated. It doesn’t help that the general consensus in his home and around the workplace is that of the Monday morning quarterback. “If it had been my home…”
It seems to be another opportunity for Hutch to grin and bear it, but when it becomes clear that the intruders made off with his daughter’s kitty cat bracelet, Hutch snaps, and now it’s time to dish out bloody justice. Unfortunately for Hutch, his parade of vengeance catches the attention of the Russian mob. Fortunately for Hutch, he has a certain set of skills…
The pace of Nobody is absolutely breathless, with that dopey sense of fun that typically surrounds Dad characters. It comes out the gate swinging and never stops for a second until it crosses the blood-soaked finish line. Propelled by a killer soundtrack of classic rock, funk, and soul (dad music?), and directed oh so cleanly by Ilya Naishuller (Hardcore Henry), every second counts towards entertainment. As Hutch moves through his mission and negotiates the fallout from his actions, the script, by Derek Kolstad (John Wick trilogy) is peppered with clever clues to Hutch’s history, and finds its strength in the characterizations. I care about Hutch and his family. I feel for the emotional crisis he seems to be going through long before the action starts. And once it does, Hutch is a fun hero to root for. But much like his forbear, John Wick, the film never lets us forget that to some degree, this whole fracas is his fault. Smart money was to walk away and end the cycle of violence, but that’s no fun. We’re trying to watch a movie here! The accumulated snark of Film Twitter will foam up about their waists, and all the verbose pearl-clutchers will shout “toxic male fantasy,” and I’ll look down and whisper “So?”
Odenkirk is surprisingly believable as a physical threat, and amidst the fisticuffs, he takes as much of a beating as he gives. The martial arts on display are a mix of brute force and clinical technique, which suits the image of a middle-aged dude quite nicely. It adds a bit of realism to a film that doesn’t take place in the real world. But since this is also a comedy, there’s some dark slapstick mixed into it as well. As previously mentioned, the fighting is shot with complete clarity, highlighting the choreography rather than masking it. This isn’t limited to the exchange of punches either. There is artfulness throughout, with sly pieces of humor and plot/character information being given to us by way of picturesque blocking and keenly applied long takes. There’s no reason a dumb action movie should look this great.
Did I say dumb? Sorry. That’s inaccurate. Nobody is incredibly smart. You’d just never know it from the outside.
The supporting cast is fantastic across the board. Connie Nielsen is wonderful as Becca Mansell, Hutch’s wife, bringing meat to a role that doesn’t get a lot of screen time. She’s tasked with being the indicator of Hutch’s softening at the hands of a basic suburban life, but she’s never treated like a ball and chain. There’s love between she and her husband, and the struggles between her and Hutch that exist in the periphery of the plot feel lived in and real. The relationships between she, Hutch, and their children are all thoroughly realized, even though they are also given a scant amount of screen time. There’s a lot of “show, don’t tell” which helps keep the aforementioned pace exactly where it needs to be without sacrificing these characters.
Hutch’s father and brother, played by Christopher Lloyd and RZA, respectively, adds another layer to both Hutch’s mysterious past, and his present-day woes. By the end, when all bets are off, and a gigantic set-piece involving the three of them rips across the screen with more verve than I can describe with mere words, my heart was warmed. Lloyd still has the dramatic and comedic chops to kick serious ass, while RZA makes a strong case for helming a Taken riff of his own. And what action movie is worth watching if it doesn’t have a compelling villain? Here it comes in the form of an unhinged party animal/mobster named Yulian, played to slimy perfection by Aleksey Serebryakov. He’s the kind of guy who walks into traffic, fully expecting cars to stop for him — and they do. He’s the type to kill for fun and come up with a reason later. He’s that big bad who will maim his own henchmen just to show that he can, and then bang a line of cocaine and give a show-stopping karaoke performance. There’s not enough time to give him a background, but it doesn’t matter. We know he’s bad news, and that’s all we need to watch him square off against someone who’s slightly better news (and while ethically compromised, isn’t as expressly evil).
Car chases, fistfights, Rube Golbergian booby traps made of hand grenades and hydraulic presses. Bone-breaking, blood-spraying, skull-crushing violence shot as a perverse form of kinetic poetry. Hilarious visual gags and witty dialogue with style to burn. And somewhere in the middle of it all, just enough heart to make you care. Nobody is why movies exist. Pure escapist perfection.
Theatrically released in the United States on March 26, 2021, by Universal Pictures.