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NOBODY (2021) review

March 27, 2021

 

written by: Derek Kolstad
produced by: Kelly McCormick, David Leitch, Braden Aftergood, Bob Odenkirk & Marc Provissiero
directed by: Iilya Naishuller
rated: R (for strong violence and bloody images, language throughout and brief drug use)
runtime: 92 min.
U.S. release date: March 26, 2021 (theaters) 

 

Word-of-mouth will describe the action thriller “Nobody” as something along the lines of a “John Wick” movie. That’s fair enough since this movie has another middle-aged guy going up against a league of bad guys, leaving them seriously injured, maimed, or dead. Considering “Nobody” comes from the mind of screenwriter Derek Kolstad, whose responsible for that Keanu Reeves franchise, such an assessment isn’t far off at all. But, it differs in that the lead is Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”), someone typically not associated with the action genre and winds up initially subverting what we’re used to in the one-man-army subgenre. The actor succeeds in delivering an uncanny performance here, while director Illya Naishuller (“Hardcore Henry”) fully embraces the oddity of it all, combining comedy with hyper kinetic violence.

Mild-mannered family man Hutch Mansell (Odenkirk) lives a seemingly uneventful life which revolves around a set schedule that has become a daily grind while going predominately unnoticed by everyone. He barely shares a bed with his realtor wife, Becca (Connie Nielsen) and although he’s a steady provider for his family, crunching numbers at a machinery company run by his father-in-law (Michael Ironside), his kids, son Blake (Gage Munroe) and daughter Abby (Paisley Cadorath) seem to take him for granted and see right past him. One night, a home invasion startles the family and when Hutch doesn’t take an opportunity to turn the table on the intruders, he’s left with a resentful son and feelings of emasculation.

 

 

What he can’t reveal is the real reason he chose not to act that night. Hutch has kept his past a secret for so long, it just came natural to hold back. But, his family potentially coming into harm’s way is the breaking point that finds him reigniting his penchant for violence. Like an itch that hasn’t been scratched in a long while, Hutch sets out to seek vengeance on whoever broke into his home, which finds him getting into a brutal altercation with a bunch of thugs on a bus. They were on the wrong bus at the wrong time. Although outnumbered and getting injured in the process, Hutch methodically (and somewhat gleefully) takes all of them out and unbeknownst to him, one of them was the kid brother of Yulian (a totally game Aleksey Serebryakov), a local Russian crime boss. Hutch’s actions change everything and put him and his family in even greater danger as Yulian declares an all-our war on this new threat from the suburbs.

Despite the desire to get into it all, certain revelations (especially involving Hutch’s other family members played by RZA and Christopher Lloyd) are best left for the viewer to discover on their own. The mayhem overseen by Naishuller is kicked into full gear during it’s second and third acts, but the first act is what really hooks the audience, as we’re introduced to what should be Hutch’s content family life. He’s restless and borderline depressive, however, and seems to be recycling into a rut. Getting back to his violent ways – something he is really good at – is like an addict relapsing, but where does that leave his family life after all this?

 

 

There are specific hints to his hidden life early on as we get to know Hutch and his home life, all of which will play out in satisfying ways later on. While the overall story unfolds with gleeful dark comedy (thanks to some stylish editing by William Yeh and Evan Schiff) and impressive action sequences shot by cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski (who lensed Ari Aster’s last two films), some may find the moral bankruptcy of the story to be a bit much, others (like myself) will enjoy the violent chaos and lose themselves in the cacophony of bullets and explosions.

Yes, “Nobody” is violent and it also revolves around a character who makes bad decisions with grave repercussions, yet we root for him. There have been stories with similar setups told in the past and they often strike a chord with audiences, sometimes becoming cult classics. What does that say about myself and people who enjoy such movies? I don’t mind violent movies. In fact, I look forward to a well done action flick, but what matters is the tone and approach. Obviously, a good action movie relies on a good story, just like any other genre, but I tend to check out if the violence is more gratuitous than stylistic in some way or if the whole thing is just plain mean-spirited. I’ll watch it, but it’s harder to sit through, for sure.

The highlight of “Nobody” is definitely Odenkirk, who is taking on a role that plays against the type of characters most viewers connect him with…and that’s a good thing. We want to see the actors we like stretch and take on new challenges, whether they work or not. This works. If all the action was taken out of the movie, Odenkirk could play this defeated character in his sleep, but when the story pivots and calls for action, Odenkirk is committed and delivers. It helps that the actor invested two years preparing for the role (primarily the fight choreography, one can assume) and that it came from his own home invasion experience. He even sought out Naishuller to direct the movie, so there’s no doubt this isn’t just something Odenkirk is trying on for size. He brings great nuance and dimension to the role, while Naishuller and Kolstad carefully place key reveals that lead up to the whole movie going from one bloody confrontation to the next.

 

 

Naishuller plays with style and relishes in incorporated certain tunes into the throughout the feature, reminiscent of Edgar Wright’s filmography. His approach to action involves some slo-mo shots coupled with quickly-paced close quartered hits, albeit all easy to follow and none of which ever feel overused or excessive. Granted, the climatic act of action feels somewhat ludicrous and cartoonish, but that’s not unheard of for these kinds of movies and at least it all leans toward comedy as opposed to horror. Combining all the comedy and action of the movie with its contagious energy makes “Nobody” easy to take in.

I really only have one qualm with “Nobody” and that comes from a long-standing wish fulfillment I’ve had that this movie doesn’t meet. In watching these one-man-army movies, I’ve often found myself wishing the protagonist was truly an “average Joe” getting in over his head as he sets out on an undetermined path of revenge or vengeance. It would be more relatable and realistic, unlike the kind of fantasy that “Nobody” falls into. Despite the title and what Odenkirk’s Hutch tells the investigators that bookend the movie, he’s not a “nobody”. It doesn’t make the movie any less entertaining or enjoyable. It just happens to not scratch an itch I’ve had for a while.

Many movies came to mind while watching “Nobody” and that’s usually a bad thing. In this case, I was so into the movie that I didn’t mind how I thought of the likes of “A History of Violence”, “Falling Down”, “Shoot ‘Em Up”, and the “Taken” and “Equalizer” movies. It must be said that he less you know going into “Nobody” the better, which is hard to do nowadays. Seriously. Don’t watch the trailers (as a general rule, they give away entirely too much, especially the red band trailer for this one). I had a blast watching it and can’t wait to revisit and hope Odenkirk and company are down for more. I sure am.

 

 

RATING: ***

 

 

 

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