Hutch Mansell (Odenkirk) is a middle-aged man stuck in a rut. He wakes, commutes to a dreary accounting job at his father-in-law’s factory, comes home, wonders when his wife and kids begin to drift away from him, and repeats. As title cards crash unrelentingly through days and weeks in this opening montage, Odenkirk perfectly wears Hutch’s pathetic resignation; he’s a far cry from John Wick or Bryan Mills. However, after a home invasion threatens his family, something in Hutch snaps. Seeking revenge, he resorts to skills gained from his previous career as a contract killer for government agencies, only to inadvertently start a feud with a Russian mob boss.
If you’ve seen a trailer for NOBODY (or John Wick, or most Liam Neeson films from the past decade), Hutch’s secret past probably isn’t a twist. In fact, Kolstad’s script is keenly aware of this trope and subverted my expectations, instead choosing to slowly, and nonchalantly, reveal details and trust viewers to put the pieces together. This culminates in the wonderfully morbid recurring joke of Hutch telling his story to wounded mobsters, getting lost in his monologue, only to look back and realise his audience has already bled out. You hear enough exposition dumping in other films, so why waste time?
Odenkirk’s casting puts a fresh face on the familiar premise and is the clearest reason for the film’s success. NOBODY requires an actor that makes you sit up giddily and say “Really? This guy?” much like the first Taken film did with Neeson years ago. While his long-running TV stint as Saul Goodman has seen him associate with criminals, I doubt anyone has ever seen Odenkirk this close to the action. Nevertheless, he delivers a carefully measured performance capable of turning from submissive white-collar worker to stoic, world weary ass-kicker on a dime, and handles himself well during the expertly choreographed fight scenes (see below). Odenkirk’s comedic background also suits Kolstad’s at times tongue-in-cheek dialogue, like demanding that robbers return his daughter’s prized ‘kitty cat bracelet’ while somehow keeping a straight face.
Speaking of fresh faces, English-speaking viewers likely won’t be familiar with Russian actor Aleksei Serebryakov, though his eccentric turn as Hutch’s newfound nemesis Yulian makes a somewhat underwritten role memorable. There are plenty of archetypal displays of his sociopathy, such as beating up associates who are already in hospital, where Serebryakov is suitably intimidating. But I preferred the scene of him entering his nightclub and just singing and dancing on stage for over a minute without interruption. The song is in Russian (I think) and there are no subtitles, so it can’t be important for the plot. Did Naishuller include this scene purely to show that Yulian is a charismatic, if odd, figure? If so, it clearly worked on me, and I would’ve loved to learn more about him.
NOBODY is a tightly paced film, relying on MacGuffins and, as previously mentioned, viewers’ awareness of action tropes to keep the time between flashy setpieces to a minimum. In a film without much genre expertise behind the camera, this narrative slightness could’ve been an issue. Thankfully, the action is so infectiously fun that it simply doesn’t matter. From a claustrophobic five-on-one brawl on a public bus, to a climactic factory showdown featuring Home Alone-esque booby traps and a literal Chekhov’s gun, I was in awe of the impressive stunt work and Naishuller’s virtuosic direction. Notably, the camera is often close enough to see that Odenkirk is doing the hand-to-hand combat himself, a testament to his willingness to truly go out of his comfort zone for this role.
Consider this my plea to Hollywood that Bob Odenkirk be allowed to try any genre he wants, provided he’s surrounded by the right people. NOBODY wouldn’t work without such an experienced team behind it ensuring that its simplicity didn’t equate to lowered standards. The action sequences here are unlikely to live on in genre fame, but will easily live up to the expectations of anyone who loved John Wick or Taken. Nevertheless, the real draw of this film is its star, who demonstrably proves that you can teach an old dog new tricks and make it look effortless.