Nobody is an arresting action showcase for star Bob Odenkirk and a skillfully staged spectacle of stuntwork nearly on par with the John Wick trilogy.
At this point, it shouldn’t surprise us when an aging actor morphs into an accomplished action star seemingly right before our eyes. Liam Neeson is perhaps most responsible for starting this subgenre-of-sorts, reinventing himself as a man-on-a-mission with a “special set of skills” in 2009’s Taken and rarely deviating from these roles in the years that followed, continuing to carefully cultivate this image in modern-day action classics like Non-Stop, The Grey, and The Commuter. Denzel Washington then soon followed suit, bringing his own “righteous revenger” to the big screen in 2014’s The Equalizer and its sequel, released in 2018. And, of course, any conversation on this specific corner of cinema would be incomplete without mention of Keanu Reeves’ revolutionary John Wick trilogy, which elevated these brawny B-movies and allowed them to be seen not just as epically pulpy genre entertainment but as actual art as well, thanks to the scrupulously staged stuntwork and deliriously dynamic direction on display in those three films.
With Ilya Naishuller’s (Hardcore Henry) Nobody, Better Call Saul star Bob Odenkirk has decided that it’s now his time to get in on all this action. Initially, one may be caught off-guard by this casting; while Odenkirk’s character on that acclaimed AMC drama is a semi-suspicious figure for sure, there’s not much there that would suggest he’d necessarily be an adept “ass-kicker.” And yet, the ingeniousness of Nobody is that it first plays into Odenkirk’s “average everyday American” persona before smoothly subverting these expectations throughout the remainder of the film, allowing audiences to be just as surprised by Hutch Mansell’s (Odenkirk) might in combat as the rest of the cast. At the start, we regard Hutch as a stereotypical suburban dad, a haggard husband, and an easygoing employee. He keeps to himself, he doesn’t rock the boat, and he refrains from drawing attention to his actions as often as possible. That is, until two thieves break into his house one night and ignite an inner storminess that’s been sidelined for too long.
Though Hutch refrains from retaliating against these thieves in the moment – later receiving ridicule for that resistance from peeving police officers and irritating in-laws, to say nothing of the flak from his own family – a long-buried urge to take justice into his own hands bubbles to the surface, and before long, he sets off in pursuit of these punks to make things right. Unfortunately, one thing leads to another, and on his chaotic crusade, Hutch instead ends up in a brawl with Russian ruffians on a bus instead, as he intervenes to prevent them from pestering a young woman seated all alone. Deeming these imbeciles as worthy of his indignation as anyone, Hutch brutally beats each almost to a pulp, eventually leaving with quite a few bumps and bruises himself. However, little does Hutch know that one of these men is the brother of a demented drug lord named Yulian (Aleksei Serebryakov, of Leviathan), who will stop at nothing to reach revenge in his sibling’s honor.
Given that Nobody is written by Derek Kolstad – who also penned every entry in the John Wick trilogy – it stands to reason that one may recognize more than a few similarities between the two films on first glance, but, thankfully, Nobody sets itself apart from the shadow of that stupendously successful series with a more “grounded” approach to this type of action movie. In John Wick, Reeves’ titular retired hitman is almost a god amongst men, typically talked about in hushed whispers as the criminal underworld shudders to think of what may happen if they cross “the Boogeyman.” Here, even though Odenkirk’s Hutch has his own puzzling past and prior combat training, he isn’t immune to having his ass handed to him either, often taking just as many blows himself as he delivers. As he slowly but surely sharpens his skillset again, Hutch becomes a formidable fighter once more, but at his core, he retains a lot of his “regular guy” relatability, which contrasts with John Wick’s status as a semi-mythological mercenary.
With all that being said, Odenkirk is positively perfect to play a protagonist like this, as he emits that “all-American” authenticity from the film’s first scene, deceiving us with his unassuming demeanor until he reveals the riotous rage within. It’s even more remarkable how Odenkirk never sheds this sincerity whilst salvaging his killer sensibilities over the course of the story, making Hutch a marauder who is sweet-natured and spine-chilling, simultaneously. Much of this is due to Hutch’s admirable aspiration to fend off these goons by any means necessary for the sake of his family, as his convincing care for his wife and children serves as Nobody’s heart and soul, and Odenkirk credibly conveys that commitment. As for that petrifying part of Hutch’s personality? Well, let’s just say that Bob Odenkirk’s two years of training for this role paid off in spades, as his physical prowess in the film’s fight scenes is nothing short of staggering. If Hutch and John Wick were to ever meet, it would quite honestly be a toss-up in terms of who would come out on top.
Aside from Odenkirk, Naishuller is Nobody’s other shining star, as his keenly kinetic direction suffuses each and every stunt-driven setpiece with a tangible tenseness and a distinct sense of danger while we wonder how Hutch will find his way out of increasingly impossible circumstances. Naishuller never skimps on style, crafting each of these conflicts with a conscientious command and consummate consideration, but he also still roots each of Hutch’s rows with these Russian recreants in reality, forcing us to palpably perceive every punch and earnestly experience the energy of these tussles as if we too are brawling with these boorish brutes ourselves. Time and time again, Naishuller masterfully places the audience “in the moment” alongside Hutch, which makes for far more involving viewing overall, as we’re left with no choice but to see these skirmishes through to the end.
While Nobody is Odenkirk and Naishuller’s showcase first and foremost, most of the film’s supporting cast find ample opportunities to leave an impression regardless, expertly complimenting the efforts of the film’s title star and director. Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future, The Addams Family) is by far and away the standout as Hutch’s feisty retired FBI agent father who has an utter blast battling with the Russian baddies in the film’s third act, while RZA’s (G.I. Joe: Retaliation, The Dead Don’t Die) additional assistance in this frenetic finale is equally enthralling. Connie Nielsen (Wonder Woman, Gladiator) is somewhat shortchanged as Hutch’s woebegone wife, but her chemistry with Odenkirk is charming enough, and should we get a sequel, Nielsen may get to step up to the plate in more fierce form. Lastly, though devoid of much depth, Serebryakov is a suitably sinister villain and a wonderfully worthy foe for Hutch as the two go head-to-head in wars of words and weapons.
From top-to-bottom, Nobody’s techs are firing on all cylinders as well, with William Yeh (Punisher: War Zone) and Evan Schiff’s (John Wick, Birds of Prey) expedient editing papering over any pacing lulls and infusing the film with intensity at all turns. Even apart from the film’s fight sequences, Yeh and Schiff find plenty of other places to inject some potency into the proceedings, such with as the quick-paced montages of the mundanity of Hutch’s life prior to his rageful reawakening. Visually, Pawel Pogorzelski’s (Hereditary, Midsommar) captivating cinematography contributes to the shape of the story’s seedy settings, while the spectacular old-school soundtrack assists in fashioning the film’s aural atmosphere, with time-honored hits like “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” “Heartbreaker,” and “What a Wonderful World” used to engrossing effect.
Nobody isn’t anything new from a narrative perspective, but in terms of carefully crafted action spectacle, it can’t be beat, coming close to evoking the excitement one experiences when watching recent revolutionary works in the genre like the John Wick trilogy. With impeccable investment from a brilliant Bob Odenkirk on both a physical and emotional level and equally exhilarating work behind the camera from dynamite director Ilya Naishuller, Nobody is ferociously entertaining original filmmaking at its finest, and here’s hoping this team finds themselves with a new franchise on their hands after this – for both their sake and ours.
Nobody is now showing in US cinemas and select European countries, and will be released worldwide April-June 2021.
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