by Jordan King
Directed by Ilya Naishuller (Hardcore Henry) and written by Derek Colstad (John Wick creator), Nobody is the latest in a long line of geri-action, dadsploitation pieces of pulp fiction, an unexpectedly popular strain of action films that extends all the way back to Liam Neeson’s 2008 star vehicle Taken. As it turns out, not only is Nobody the latest, but also the greatest one so far, a rip-roaring succession of satisfying needledrops, brutal fights, surprising sight gags, and one Mr Bob Odenkirk doing the “funny man plays it straight” thing exceptionally well.
Odenkirk stars as Hutch Mansell. Hutch is a suburban dad-of-two, long ignored husband to high-flying wife Becca (a great but greatly underused Connie Nielsen), and when we meet him at least he definitely lives up the film’s title – he’s a bit of a nobody. In a cleverly cut opening montage, we see Hutch go about his daily routine, cooking breakfast, missing the trash collection, going for a run, heading to work, clocking in, clocking out, laying awake at night and staring at the ceiling – this is repeated to the point where each part of the routine represents an entire day in Hutch’s life. Hutch is going nowhere fast, and the dull life he leads has clearly led to strains on his relationship with his family, his colleagues. and himself to boot.
When two thieves break into Hutch’s family home one night, the family patriarch chokes on a chance to stand up for his family, hoisting a golf club over one of the armed assailant’s heads before abandoning the idea and letting the crooks go. Subjected to the emasculating bemusement of the local police and work colleagues alike, a simmering rage bubbles to the surface of our otherwise painfully ordinary family man. When his daughter Abby (Paisley Cadorath) reveals her kitty cat bracelet has gone missing, presumably stolen by the thieves, that simmering rage goes infernal, leading Hutch to reconnect with a long-repressed part of his past as he sets out to seek violent retribution.
In the first of the film’s many balls-to-the-wall action setpieces Hutch, having seen his attempt to retrieve Abby’s bracelet go awry, boards a night bus home where he sees a drunken gang board and start harassing a young woman. By this point, we’ve been drip-fed enough to suspect that Hutch was a dangerous man back in the day – a tattoo parlour confrontation that seems to have snookered our man Mansell swiftly swings back his way when a flash of his wrist tattoo strikes the fear of God into the joint’s owner – but here we get to see what Hutch, and by extension Odenkirk, can do. And it is grimly glorious.
Following a gorgeously OTT slow-mo sequence set to ‘I’ve Got To Be Me’, Odenkirk’s Hutch quietly slips past the gang on the bus to let the driver and the set-upon young woman off. Shutting the doors, he turns back to the gang, snarling ‘I’m gonna fuck you up.’ Odenkirk came up with the idea for Nobody himself after going through a traumatising home invasion and wondering what he would’ve done if he was ‘a badass’. As his character trades blows with the Russian gang, getting as good as he gives in the early moments before going full nutso on them (it’s shot and played as if it takes the taste of his own blood to awaken the beast within Hutch), it turns out what he would’ve done is brutal. Between flying fists, a switchblade, and the inventive use of both a broken-off handrail and the pull-cord for requesting stops, the latter of which is employed to blackly comic effect, a veritable Pandora’s Box is opened, spilling out all of Hutch’s long-repressed rage and shaking the cobwebs off his specialist skillset.
From that sequence, which narratively is the real inciting incident – the gang member Hutch leaves breathing through a straw is the son of powerful, wacko Russian mobster Yulian (a suitably scenery chewing Aleksey Serebryakov) – Nobody goes from strength to strength. As Hutch’s dad, played brilliantly by Christopher Lloyd in a role destined for cult icon status, enters the picture, and Hutch’s brother Harry (RZA) joins the fray too to take on the mob, the stakes and body count both rise exponentially in a dizzying display of brutality, genre homages, and stylised sadism. From flaming records to sawn-off shotguns, high-speed car chases to claymore face-offs, Nobody plays out like a middle-aged man’s ultimate revenge fantasy- if John Wick made a ballet from its bone-crunching, then Naishuller’s film is dad rock with its down-and-dirty antics.
Bob Odenkirk is operating on a whole other level here to his Breaking Bad days as motormouth lawyer Saul Goodman, playing Hutch as a man who has run out of patience with talking things over. A recurring bit revolves around Hutch’s enemies dying just as he begins opening up about his past life as an ‘auditor’ for the mob – this is a story that has been almost literally done to death, and so we simply don’t spend too much time on it. The time that would’ve been spent on exposition is instead given to such primal delights as watching Odenkirk throw boiling water at a baddie before biffing them with a teapot or go to town with an assault rifle. At 58 years of age, where Odenkirk may have elsewhere been expected to use his age to play Hutch’s character for creaky limbed laughs, Naishuller instead provides his star with a chance to use his age as a way to add weight to his work and ground the film’s hyperviolence in something recognisably human. And honestly, that’s perfect. Odenkirk is such a reliable leading man that he can convey Hutch’s frustration with domesticity and pull to ‘the old ways’ just as easily in a look as a line delivery – Midsommar and Hereditary DP Pawel Pogorzelski’s now customary knack for using the camera to communicate character sees him find just the right light and angle to outwardly express Hutch’s inner struggle between settling down and starting up again.
Nobody is a very adeptly manoeuvred example of giving audiences what they want and expect without skimping on the style or substance to deliver it. As earlier stated, this is the “Dad Rock” of action movies, and it gets into a groove early on that never lets up for a second. If you like crooner classics with your ultraviolence, a dark bit of humour with your ride-all-night revenge saga, then you’re in for a wild time with Naishuller’s latest film. Ordinarily, the baiting of sequels, sidequels, prequels and more in a star vehicle is a groansome occurrence, but with Odenkirk’s Hutch Mansell posing a very human counterpoint to Keanu Reeves’ almost mythic John Wick, it’s hard to be anything other than pumped for whatever is next in this new cinematic universe. In a world of lazy action films that don’t know how to choreograph carnage with compelling characters, Nobody truly does it better.
Nobody is out in cinemas now!