Film Review – Nobody
A lot of the talk about Nobody (2021) revolves around its central casting. Bob Odenkirk – whose background is in comedy and whom many recognize as the lawyer in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul – may not be the first person one will think of as a kick ass action star. But that’s what makes his casting so perfect. Odenkirk has the ability to play the everyman, the mild-mannered father and husband who can talk your ear off about football and BBQ. But his talent is so varied that once he turns into a stone-cold killer, the transition doesn’t seem impossible.
Let’s face it: if we were to run into an assassin who hides behind the veil of domesticity, chances are they would be a person like Odenkirk. As much as I love True Lies (1994), Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn’t fooling anyone as a computer salesman. Here, Odenkirk plays Hutch, a middle-aged man stuck in a rut. His life is a series of boring routines: working a dead-end job, forgetting to take the garbage out, etc. Early on, the direction (Ilya Naishuller) and editing (Evan Schiff, William Yeh) flashes us with a rapid-fire montage of Hutch’s week, day by day. The most excitement he gets are his nightly jogs. The romance with his wife (Connie Nielsen) has dried up, and his kids treat him as though he were a specter.
But Hutch is more than just coffee mugs and khaki pants. One night, his house gets robbed, with the assailants stealing his watch and giving his son (Gage Munroe) a black eye. Hutch had the opportunity to take the robbers down but hesitated at the crucial moment. This event caused an even bigger rift between him and the rest of his family. When Hutch finds out that his daughter’s little kitty cat bracelet was also stolen, he reverts back to his previous self: a black ops mercenary who once did the dirty work the government wasn’t allowed to do. Needless to say, this isn’t a good turn of events for the robbers, or anyone else that stands in Hutch’s path.
This premise will call to mind a number of other characters who have reached the end of their rope. Michael Douglas in Falling Down (1993) and Charles Bronson in Death Wish (1974) both played people who have been kicked by society and wouldn’t take it anymore. Of course, the biggest comparison would be with the John Wick franchise, with Keanu Reeves also playing a retired assassin brought back into the mix. Where John Wick kick started his comeback due to thugs messing with his dog, Hutch makes is return through his daughter’s bracelet. But Nobody isn’t the kind of movie where the action is slickly choreographed with cool maneuvers and stylized knife fights. This is a lowdown, dirty, and messy affair where Hutch takes just as much as he gives.
Which is what makes it such an interesting watch. Odenkirk doesn’t play Hutch as a guy who can take out an entire room of bad guys without a scratch. He takes a brutal pounding throughout the narrative, with his face slowly getting rearranged to mark his progress. His biggest asset is his determination – he simply will not give up. When Hutch confronts a group of Russian gangsters on a city bus, the staging has a sloppy feel. Characters tumble over one another, knocking into each other in bone crunching chaos. Hutch, despite being outnumbered, will not go down easily. His ability to take punch and keep moving forward is what makes him so volatile. Sure, he may get thrown out of a window, but it’ll take a lot more than that to keep him down.
But Hutch isn’t just a machine. The writing (Derek Kolstad), direction, and performance gives him just enough depth so that he isn’t just a one-dimensional person. Odenkirk provides an air of humanity that draws our empathies. Occasionally, the narrative will take a rest stop to allow Hutch a chance to reveal himself on a human level. His relationship with his father (Christopher Lloyd) is both hilarious and believable. When Hutch talks with his wife about their marriage feeling loveless, the scene is effective without being melodramatic. And his extended monologue, in which he explains the reasons why he decided to leave “the game,” is surprisingly heartfelt and genuinely moving.
The story is familiar territory, with a ruthless Russian boss (Aleksey Serebryakov) seeking retribution for what happened on the bus. But it’s hard to deny the skill that went into making something recognizable feel new again. When we step back and look at it as a whole, is Nobody a straight genre piece? Yes, it is. Is it ambivalent in regard to the morality of its protagonist and the violence he inflicts upon others? That’s correct. But is it also a stellar piece of hard-boiled pulp told with flair while featuring a wickedly good central performance? Absolutely.