We have all seen the action movie about the normal, average, guy who is thrust into an abnormal situation. One spin on this tale is to make the guy seem normal at first, but to give him a secretive past, one that will help him with whatever issues arise within the film. We have all seen that version of the story, too. What we have rarely seen, however, is as good a take on it as Bob Odenkirk’s new film, “Nobody.”
Directed by Ilya Naishuller with a script from Derek Kolstad, “Nobody” is something special. It isn’t just that Odenkirk is fantastic—and he is fantastic—it’s that the movie hits all the right notes, all the way down the line. Everything that goes into it builds around this idea that the look and feel of Odenkirk, especially Odenkirk as this character, Hutch Mansell, is not the expected look and feel of an action hero. Everything is skewed towards the regular and then the incongruous occurs. It happens from the start of the movie and continues all the way through.
We learn all about Hutch and his quiet, dull, sad life in the greatest of fashions. We see a montage of several weeks in his life as he gets up, exercises, takes the bus to work, enters numbers in a spreadsheet, and misses the garbage man over and over again. We see his wife, Becca (Connie Nielsen), remind him of this last bit repeatedly. It’s a brilliant entry point, because this is who Hutch is, it is who he has been for years, and who he might very well be forever. When we meet him he’s a nice, quiet, family man. He’s employed by his father-in-law (Michael Ironside) in what feels like a position he was given so that the old man’s daughter could be happy. There’s a pillow wall on Hutch and Becca’s bed, a barrier between the two. Who put it there? How long has it been there? The two don’t seem like they would fight, but there’s a lingering sense of her disappointment in him, in his quiet nothingness as a human being, a disappointment he echoes.
This very well might be a film about one suburban guy having a mid-life crisis. It isn’t. After the introduction there are some completely eye-opening moments as this guy, Hutch, slowly has his layers peeled back and is revealed to not be an average individual, but a man who once lived a life requiring that he kill a whole lot of folks.
Odenkirk is believable as the average schmo when Hutch is wearing a polo tucked into his khakis. But then, it comes time for Hutch to kill someone and there’s a glint in the actor’s eyes. We can see Hutch come alive as he’s getting stabbed, we can see a fire building inside as he reveals his true self and it’s amazing.
Kolstad is the writer of the three “John Wick” movies and this story has a similar vibe. There is this shadowy world we do not know about but which clearly has been constructed, and quite possibly will be revealed in the future. Odenkirk’s Hutch can even be seen as a take on Wick himself, but when we see Keanu Reeves, we all know that he is a guy who cannot just deliver action beats on screen, but really and truly make the audience feel the blows. Odenkirk is just as good here, if not better, because we don’t expect it from him. Odenkirk offers more of an everyday guy sort of look than Reeves, but shows his character killing with equal brutality.
The plot, as it goes, is pure silliness, involving a chance encounter with the Russian mob, but it puts the pieces in motion. More than that though, the movie knows that there’s not much there, it sort of revels in it. The big bad, Yulian (Alexey Serebryakov ) is the anti-Hutch, living a loud life as an ultraviolent man, a man with dozens of armed individuals at his beck and call. Hutch has no one to call. Well, except for his dad (Christopher Lloyd) and his mysteriously disappeared brother (RZA), a man who is little more than a voice on the other end of a radio.
Looking at the music, there is stuff like Louis Armstrong singing “What a Wonderful World,” Gerry & The Pacemakers doing “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” Andy Williams performing “The Impossible Dream,” and Pat Benatar singing “Heartbreaker.” It isn’t just that it crosses genres and decades, it’s that a lot of the songs aren’t necessarily what you would expect for an action movie (not that they haven’t been used, necessarily). This is also a movie where Naishuller is wonderfully comfortable with not including music, or having it drop out suddenly, so as to better let the audience hear the silence, or impacts of hits, in a fight.
“Nobody” may be ultraviolent and unreasonably funny, but it’s also beautiful in its own way. There is a scene where a fire starts and it’s just gorgeously shot.
Yes, whatever the goal of an image or a song or a sound or a silence or a look from Odenkirk or Nielsen or Lloyd or Serebryakov, it all serves to convince us that this movie is an odd choice for Odenkirk… or that Odenkirk is an odd choice for this movie. Then, of course, the actor puts a bullet through someone’s skull or builds a grenade or viciously knifes someone else and we’re pretty convinced he could break our legs with little more than a flick of the wrist.
Odenkirk doesn’t just shine in the role, he mesmerizes. With Connie Nielsen and Christopher Lloyd in supporting roles and quick appearances from the likes of Colin Salmon, this is a full world of heart-pounding excitement, and it’s one where I have an irrational fear that a sequel will exist. It isn’t that I don’t want to see more of Hutch and what he can do, it’s that “Nobody” is perfect and it is unreasonable to ask a follow-up to be as good.
Universal is releasing “Nobody” only to theaters, and if you’re vaccinated and will wear a mask the whole time, you should go see it. I desperately wish I had experienced this movie for the first time on the big screen, because I now can only imagine the way it would have hit me. It is without a doubt the best action movie I have seen in a long time and if it’s in theaters after I’m vaccinated, I can promise I’ll be going again. Frankly, I’d be afraid of meeting Odenkirk in a dark alley if I didn’t.
photo credit: Universal Studios