Director: Ilya Naishuller
Stars: RZA, Connie Nielsen, Bob Odenkirk
I’m currently under siege from a nudist junkie wannabe-DJ next-door neighbour in his late 40s who insists on playing loud ’90s dance music at all hours, often for up to 12 hours at a time. Just recently, this has included a 10-day jag of consecutive all-night ‘parties’, culminating last Friday when a complete stranger tried to break the door down in an inexplicable rage. Believe me, landlords, police and the council have been contacted.
I’ve also – as my tolerance and sanity have worn thin – fantasised about being in a position to enact my own retribution. Sometimes we all have bloody thoughts.
So long as human beings crave vengeance and reprisal, movies like Nobody will exist to sate our daydreams of vigilante action. For John Wick scribe David Leitch, there’s a certain template to be maintained in this regard, something along the lines of Pacino snarling “just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in”. But while Leitch is guilty of sticking to tried and tested ground, he’s also to be credited for trying to implant as much creativity and wry humour into his well-worn soil. In an age of endlessly boring CGI superhero movies, action cinema needs someone eager to give the genre a few loving kicks.
Bob Odenkirk is the latest unlikely hero to step into what is often gracelessly called the ‘geriactioner’ – a sloppy catch-all term coined for action movies with heroes over the age of 40, it seems. His Hutch Mansell has the life of an unassuming everyman. He lives in suburbia, married with children, garners little respect and has a baffling inability to remember bin day. In a manner reminiscent of Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Commuter, the beginning of Nobody goes to great pains to underscore the monotony of his existence.
All that is set to change of course, when a pair of desperate young thieves break into his home for petty cash. Hutch holds back from exacting swift and sharp violent action, but this very reticence only adds to his growing sense of belittlement and frustration. When it becomes apparent that his daughter’s kitty-cat bracelet has been lost in the transaction, something inside Hutch snaps.
Its an even flimsier set-up than the mechanics that set Keanu Reeve’s John Wick back in motion, but this shagginess itself is a wry acknowledgement of action cinema’s house-of-cards approach to motive. The film is littered with such comedic asides to the audience, particularly whenever Hutch tries to doll out exposition about his shady past – people tend to die or fall asleep whenever he feels moved to expound such critical information. Nobody plays with the tropes and expectations of this kind of thing.
And, for a while, it acknowledges something that a lot of these movies seem to conveniently forget: pain.
While riding the bus, Hutch intervenes when a group of Russian hooligans corner a young woman travelling on her own. His intervention in this situation marks the movie’s brutal high water mark, and a lot of it lands so well because Hutch is a little rusty. He takes hits, spits blood, gets up limping. He is as reasonably debilitated as his foes. The action feels weighted, makes us wince. Regrettably, this sensibility doesn’t quite last the whole journey. By the time we’ve reached the film’s ridiculous conclusion, director Ilya Naishuller has tilted toward Wile E. Coyote slapstick. It should be noted, however, that the film’s violent crescendo remains supremely entertaining; equal parts Home Alone and Call of Duty.
Nobody draws a less-than-subtle parallel between Hutch’s fighting skills and his sex drive, though it remains oddly sexless. A potent metaphor for an end of impotency, Leitch’s script bypasses Hutch’s distanced wife Becca (Connie Nielsen) and instead channels this newfound virility into a masculine bonding experience with father David (Christopher Lloyd) and his reclusive former cohort Harry (RZA). Lloyd gurns happily through this experience as though he’s having the time of his life, and that energy is pretty infectious. Still, par for the course when it comes to action movies, the women are all marginalised presences.
Odenkirk – who has a producer credit here – draws on a fair amount of his Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman moves for Hutch, conjuring for us an incredibly likeable, weary underdog character, one eager to redefine himself with a more confident and shameless alter ego. For Hutch, this is literally ‘Nobody’; a mythic role from his past able to operate without consequence, instilling fear in those who’ve told bedtime stories about him. It’s so close to the John Wick dynamic that I was expecting fully-fledged crossover space. If there’s ever a sequel (and Nobody kinda wants one), I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hutch with his feet-up at The Continental.
Naishuller directs with some panache. He’s conscious that geography and editing are key to action set pieces, and even looks for new ways to present old tricks (one car crash in particular is staged with quite a dash of originality). He also positively clutters the film with anthemic soundtrack cues, surrounding Hutch with the kind of jukebox classics one might expect to find in a 55-year-old man’s glove compartment.
After a tough, irksome start in which it seems as though the film simply doesn’t have time for its audience, Nobody develops into a rollicking ride. It’s wafer thin and, if you stop for a second, rather regressive in its politics, but its also a shot in the arm for genre cinema in the absence of John Wick Chapter Four.
Until then, you’re in safe hands.